#8: Fernet Branca

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.”

…what?

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.

THE LOOK:

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.

THE TASTE:

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.

Viva Italia!

Catch you next time.

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15 Responses to #8: Fernet Branca

  1. Auntie M says:

    This sounds like a german fluid, Black 100, that your mom and I bought once based on our formula of most proof, with least calories, and cheapest on the shelf. I guess that melts down to” most bang for your buck.” It’s still here in the liquor museum which you will be touring in August, trust me.

  2. doctorcrankenstein says:

    That was one of the most interesting blog posts I have ever read. Freaking Incredible :)

  3. muriel simone says:

    swedish bitters meets nyquil.

  4. Maybe says:

    Bad choice sipping it solo. Fernet, although in some countries is taken as a ‘digestive shot’, is meant to be mixed with Coke (not on equal proportions, at least not the first time), ice and, if you’re in the mood for it, some lemon. Where I come from, Argentina, it is somewhat considered a National Drink, to the point that in parties people will get mad at those drinking nothing but Coke, because Coke is only bought so that it can be mixed with Fernet, such as if they were a match made in Heaven. It will still taste a bit too bitter the first time but, who are we kidding? so does beer, but I promite it will later grow on ya.

    Try it and thank me later.

    Kind regards from a girl in Buenos Aires, preoccupied with making justice to this fine and missunderstood drink.

    • Wow. Thank you for the wealth of information. I read about the coke mixing but I wasn’t convinced it would do much to stifle the flavor. The next time I feel brave enough to pick up a bottle I’ll definitely give it a try.

  5. Jenny Gumpertz says:

    You nailed it! And now I know why I like it. Have a shot of it over ice every night while writing friends. YUM!

  6. Pingback: How to Drink Fernet-Branca All Day Long -

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  8. Fernet branca is supposed to be mixed with Coca-cola. It is awesome and you can party all night.

  9. Pip says:

    AWESOME. I’m working on a cocktail guide and couldn’t bring myself to actually TRY Fernet to get a feel for it. This blog gave me a perfect understanding of how much I don’t want this in my mouth.

  10. Erik N says:

    Fernet is not “supposed” to be mixed with Coca Cola, it just commonly is. It was originally created in Italy as a digestif/after-dinner drink. Just because all you Argentinians have made Coke and Fernet your apparent national drink doesn’t mean that’s how it is “supposed” to be enjoyed.

  11. Bruno says:

    If you only drink it with cola then your teeth get squeaky and belly get fat. It’s a great cocktail but after one or two I will drink the stuff straight, which absolutely terrifies the Argentines. It’s true that you never get used to it. That why I am not bored of it after drinking for well over 5 years while other drinks get very boring. It’s the stuff of gods and part of my identity.

    • Jenny GUMPERTZ says:

      I have got it all over you, been drinking it for 9-10 years. And you’re right, never gets boring. It is the stuff of gods but not my identity–don’t want to be boxed in. Only hope it doesn’t melt my teeth.

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