At most bars, there are two bottles that can make a bartender’s ears perk up while ordering. Scotland’s smoky Islay Laphroaig 10 and Italy’s herbal Fernet Branca. The latter, you’re more likely to see him or her pour for themselves as a shift drink, sometimes offering up a quick cheers, then knocking it back with a quick flick of the wrist. It’s almost as if the word Fernet is a secret passphrase, signaling your bartender that you’re hip and in the know, or possibly post-meal Italian.
Fernet, for bartenders, is like a bro-hug. It’s also like a goodnight high five. It’s is medicinal, familiar yet esoteric, and a bit like communion. The Amaro (herbal bitter liqueur) can be polarizing however, some describe it as “fermented ear wax” and others adorn it as “Christmas in a glass.”
I love it for reasons I can barely describe. Fernet Francisco (pictured) is sort of like booze, Ricola, and cocktail bitters had sex with a Rolo. There are notes of bay leaf on one sip…the next? Hard raspberry candy halfway melted on the dash of a 1968 Volkswagen hippy bus. There are notes of fog machine at a haunted house, Coca Cola syrup, Christmas tree water, and CVS Tussin. But it’s great! I like it chilled after a meal, no more than two ounces, however. Anaheim’s Hammer Bar director Lucie Wood said it best, “I definitely have learned it’s wise to drink medicinally and not to get drunk…unless you want to hurt all over.”
I polled various booze industry peeps about Fernet and got some fun replies, mostly revolving around Restaurateur Leonard Chan‘s heavy Fernet hand.
Leonard Chan: “Some drink to remember…some drink to Fernet,” then continued, “It’s amazing. Delicious. Settles my stomach. If my tummy is wrecked from too much whiskey the night before I can still drink this the next day for 16 hours straight. Show me your coin!”
Anne Marie Panoringan (OC Weekly Food): “I like it after a particularly heavy dinner. Or when Leonard Chan starts pouring.”
Guìllermo Bugarin (Far Bar L.A.): “Tastes like concentrated green nyquil.” Lucie Wood (Hammer Bar) replied, “Hey man, some of us like the green NyQuil.”
Michael Rooney (Vaca): “That stuff saved my life! I swear by it!”
Jimmy Martinez (Pour Vida Latin Flavor): “Anytime your stomach is in pain have a sip! Coming from a chef, I love it!”
Evan Rapport (Evan’s Public House) Fernet Menta tastes like Christmas, and that’s a good thing.”
Joel Caruso (Pizzeria Ortica/Amaroguy): “Fernet Vittone for the win! It strikes an impeccable balance for its category.”
Dougie Craig “It’s awful. It only entered my body because of Leonard Chan. It’s like drinking Jaeger without getting a great story at the end.”
Emily Delicce: “It makes me not feel my legs. True story. First time I had it I wanted to die, then it made my legs numb and it was all over from there. I named my final cocktail at the Fernet competition this year “I can’t feel my bleeping legs.”
Daniel Cuppels (Haven Gastropub) “Do not speak to those who do not like Fernet.”
Nichole Richardson (Tasting Nitch) “Love it! Tastes like dirt.”
Devon Reeves (Anaheim Make): “Gross to me but all of my friends in the food and bev biz seem to love to guzzle that stuff down for some reason.”