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Fernet-Branca Liqueur


By Robert Plotkin

One of the surest signs that you're seated at a five-star bar or cocktail lounge is spotting a bottle of Fernet-Branca Liqueur on the backbar. This classy Italian aromatic bitter—an amaro—is a bartender's favorite on every continent. Not only is it an indispensable ingredient in scores of mixed drinks and classic cocktails, Fernet-Branca is also famous for its restorative properties. It's a health plan in a bottle. Factor in that Fernet-Branca is also absolutely delicious and you'll begin to see why the venerable liqueur is such a gem.

Fernet-Branca was created in 1845 by Italian Bernando Branca, who shortly thereafter founded the Fratelli Branca Distillery in Milan. While the exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, the firm says the all-natural liqueur is made with over 27 herbs, spices, plants and roots obtained from 4 continents. A partial list of ingredients includes aloe ferox, gentian, chamomile, angelica, chincona, Colombo root, Chinese rhubarb, myrrh, peppermint, saffron and eucalyptus. The liqueur contains no artificial flavors, colorants or additives and only a trace of sugar.

Fernet-Branca is still crafted according to the original recipe and employing the same processes. After arriving at the distillery, the various constituent botanicals are divided into two groups. Some of the herbs—such as the aloe and chamomile—are infused in boiling water and left to macerate for a month. The remainder of the ingredients is steeped in alcohol. After 30 days the two infusions are blended in a large tank and allowed to rest for 20 days to allow their flavors to fully integrate.

The aromatic blend is then filtered and transferred into Slavonian oak barrels for a year, after which it is removed from the casks and rested once again in large vats for up to a month. Fernet-Branca is bottled at 39% alcohol (78 proof).

Fernet-Branca is the quintessential bitter aperitif. The dark reddish/brown liqueur has a satiny, aloe-enhanced body and a generous bouquet laced with spicy, floral and herbaceous aromas. Its brilliant array of aromatics is captivating and distinguishes Fernet-Branca from other amaros. The liqueur's smooth, cool entry quickly expands filling the mouth with a montage of flavor, a dry, expansive offering featuring eucalyptus, anise, dried herbs, currents, coffee, menthol and mint. The longer it is allowed to breathe, the more flavors come to the forefront. It's a distinct pleasure from start to lingering finish.

A few sips of Fernet-Branca and you'll be a fan for life.

Salute! Cin cin!