Fernet Fascination

Fernet-BrancaA while ago I started noticing a lot of talk in cocktail circles in the twitterverse about Fernet-Branca. All I knew is that it was a brand of amaro, a bitter digestif. Everyone seemed to be talking about it. Naturally, I got a bottle.

When I first tasted Fernet-Branca, I had the reaction that  assume most people have their first time. It is bitter and it lingers on the palate. I thought maybe I drank pine flavored cough medicine. I wasn’t ready for straight Fernet. Fine. Outside of whiskey and tequila, I don’t drink much straight booze. So, onto cocktails.

Around the same time, I was messing with the Red Hook cocktail, a cousin to the Manhattan. I liked the balance between Punt y Mes, which is more bitter than your standard Italian vermouth, and the sweetness of the Maraschino liqueur.

The HankyPanky was brought to my attention, though I used this recipe. I noticed the similarity to the Red Hook; the spirit base and the sweet and bitter playing off each other. The Hanky Panky was tasty, but not something I’d drink often. I’d need to come up with something original.  Naturally the base would be whiskey. I chose rye, both because I liked the way it worked in the Red Hook and bourbon seemed a bit sweet for what I wanted. I opened the liquor cabinet to see what other sweet elements I could play off the Fernet.  For the sweet component I chose Bénédictine. After some tinkering, the Retired Explorers’ Club was born sometime in late winter.

Retired Explorers’ Club
2oz rye whiskey
1/4oz Bénédictine
1/4oz Fernet-Branca
Stir with ice until very cold, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.

A great cold weather drink, this made the Missus and I think of the song, “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)” by The Weakerthans, particularly the opening line, “Just one more drink and then I should be on my way home.” The Weakerthans are from Winnepeg, which reminded me of another cocktail I’d had years previously at the Roebling Tea Room in Brooklyn: The Toronto cocktail. Holy crap, the Toronto is nearly identical to Retired Explorers’ Club. I invented a variation! I know that the majority of cocktail recipes are variations on tried and true formulas, but wow, that was so similar it seems like I stole a recipe. Considering the Canadian connection I’d made between the two drinks, it seems even more suspicious. (It is a bit ironic that Fernet-Branca wasn’t available in Canada when I first tried this cocktail.)

As I’ve become more comfortable with the flavor of Fernet-Branca, I’ve toyed with these variations to reduce the amount of rye and substituting other sweet ingredients for the Bénédictine. Keeping with the Canadian theme there is a ghost town in southern Alberta called…

Whiskey Gap
1 1/2oz rye whiskey
1/2oz apricot brandy
1/2oz Fernet-Branca
Stir with ice until very cold, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Fernet-Branca is a very strange drink. The more you drink of it —and I don’t mean in a single session, rather over time— the better it gets. As I write this I’m sipping Fernet neat, so I guess I’ve come a long way.

5 thoughts on “Fernet Fascination

  1. Pingback: Brown, Bitter & Stirred « twinfountain

  2. Pingback: Rye and Amaro are friends. « twinfountain

  3. Pingback: Fernet Fascination 2: Fernet and White Dog « twinfountain

  4. I’m married to an Argentinean from Tucuman where Fernet Branca is the alcohol of choice and I can attest to it’s availability in Canada. I buy it at Sherbrook Liquor in Edmonton Alberta! Salud!

  5. Kaitlin: Thanks for your note. In 2006, when the article I referenced for the Toronto cocktail was written, Fernet was unavailable in Canada. That has since changed. I’ve edited the post.

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