I do a fair amount of dumb shit for your amusement, dear readers, but we’re about to venture off into another category of nastiness entirely: the demon liquor that is known as “Fernet Branca.”
For a little background information, here’s the wikipedia entry, but this excerpt will tell you pretty much everything you need to know:
“Because of its list of ingredients, a number of home remedies call for Fernet-Branca, including for the treatment of menstrual and gastrointestinal discomfort, hangovers, baby colic, and (formerly) cholera.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I traditionally avoid alcohol based taste tests, partially because it seems like taking advantage of my line of work, and also there are professional people out there with properly developed palates who could offer more useful, trenchant insights that I can manage. But this bottle of Fernet Branca basically fell in my lap recently, based around a set of rather unusual circumstances:
1. Customer at my place of employment purchases bottle of Fernet Branca.
2. Apparently clueless as to how it would actually taste, customer at my place of employment attempts to return bottle of Fernet Branca after bringing it home and actually tasting it.
3. Although nothing is actually wrong with bottle of Fernet Branca, one of my coworkers accepts the return, based solely on how nasty and disgusting and awful it smells.
4. We, unable to send it back to the distribution company we bought it from, are left with a barely touched bottle of Fernet Branca, with noplace to call home.
Enter, yours truly. Most of my coworkers are a hearty sort, and usually game to try just about anything, but the smell emanating from this stuff alone was enough to make most of them quail. We all tried it, and the general consensus was “pour it down the drain… QUICKLY” but all that made me do was love it all the more. I knew I had to give this demon liquor a home. And so, without further ado… here is a vague idea of what Fernet Branca looks, smells, tastes, and feels like.
Dark. Jet black, almost, in the bottle, although it has a vaguely golden, almost motor oil-y tint to it when you attempt to pour it in a glass like a normal, civilized beverage.
THE SMELL (never smell it first!):
Invigorating, to say the least. It smells somewhere in between Listerine and Pine-Sol, with a really heavy, rich, dark, bitter under-and-overtone. Very strongly herbal, very mediciney. Jesus, people don’t really drink this recreationally, do they? I guess it’s time to find out.
URRRRRRRRRRGH. WOW. Full disclosure: I’ve tasted this prior to the test, at work and then a couple times after I brought it home, but good god, you never get used to it. The initial blast is again, like I described the smell, somewhere between mouthwash and Pine-Sol, and apparently frighteningly close to the initial formula for Listerine, although I don’t think I ever tried it, but that’s what people have reported to me.
The most notable thing is the length of the finish, the way the flavor lingers in your mouth for minutes… several minutes… what feels like an eternity… after you finish it.
Fernet Branca (and Branca Menta, and all its jacked up permutations and distant relatives) is basically regarded as a “Digestif,” or what I like to call a “Bracer,” in the same category as Aquavit, or things like that. It’s something you drink to put hair on your chest, to brace you to go out and deal with a frequently harsh and unrelenting outside world, something to test your mettle. And a test it is.
If you’re still not quite clear, imagine a piece of spearmint gum, melted down in a bath of pine needle solvent, stirred in with roofing tar (for color, and consistency). That’s about what you get with a shot of Fernet Branca. There are cocktail recipes (good god, really?) and further mixing and chasing suggestions at the wikipedia entry linked above, but really, honestly…
Handle at your own risk. This is not the kind of thing you get used to. It’s fun, and weird, and different, and as far as “bracers” go, it’s certainly bracing, but it’s not the kind of thing you want to wander into without knowing what you’re signing up for. Otherwise you run the risk of being the poor sap who has to try to return a barely opened bottle to the store they brought it from, with a flimsy pretense to cover the fact that you can’t handle what you bought. And you’d be lucky to find a store that would accept the bottle of Fernet Branca that you bought, no questions asked. Someone obviously got lucky with us, but I wouldn’t test it if I were you.
Catch you next time.