What is Fernet?

Take a look around your standard bar and you will find specific varieties of your typical spirits. There’s usually a vodka choice or two and a selection or whiskies and tequilas but have you ever noticed one bottle that is always there but you (may) never drink it? It’s on a ton of cocktails and it’s also rather popular to enjoy this beverage solo. The flavor although unique, it’s bitter but enjoyable. Only the informed sip or shoot this slick liqueur, really. You guessed it! Fernet, is that scrumptious liqueur we will be discussing today!


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Fernet, pronounced Fer-Net is an amaro that originated in Italy in the 19th century. It gets its dark amber caramel color from aging a mixture of botanicals, spices, herbs and roots with a flavorless grape base liqueur in oak barrels.

Inside the oak barrels, it ages for no less than one year. It’s made almost like a tincture because it’s never fermented! The final product is a 35-42% ABV (on average) beverage that is traditionally served neat and after eating as it is also a digestive. It is not uncommon to enjoy some in your coffee or have it on the side while you are eating dessert.

Fernet is more bitter than campari, another amaro, but, instead of blood orange, you’ll get hints black licorice and menthol. It adds a strong backbone to the cocktail when it is used to replace campari in some of the classics. Although it’s mainly served neat, it’s rather delicious to be substituted inside your favorite classics as the bitter component.

The Hanky Panky is one of the more popular fernet cocktails. Not only is it fun to say, but it’s rather delicious! Created by a bartender in France in 1903 it’s a fun twist on a negroni. It only takes these three ingredients 1 1⁄2 oz of your favorite Gin with 1 1⁄2 oz of sweet vermouth and 2 dashes Fernet! Stir it with ice, drain and serve up in a martini glass with an orange peel to garnish. You caught me; it’s four ingredients! Another way people enjoy fernet is a fernet and coke. It tastes mildly like an adult rootbeer!

A brief history:

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But where did this mystical beverage come from? Fernet originated in Milian, Italy in 1845 by a gentleman named Bernardino Branca.

He created the most iconic fernet, Fernet-Branca! Just as Kleenex kind of has this monopoly on facial tissue, Fernet Branca is the exact same but for fernet!

This recipe is heavily guarded and currently only the most elite know the exact recipe herbs and proportions. Typically, you’ll find rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and even saffron amongst other things that make it so delectable!

Fernet became so popular because like so many other liqueurs, it wasn’t originally marketed as a beverage. Fernet too, started off as medicine! It shouldn’t come as a shocker as it’s a digestif. Fernet’s originally purpose was to help settle an upset stomach.

During the prohibition it was sold to pharmacies in the states as a cure all! Fernet was one of the few spirits still sold in pharmacies as a result!

Random Fact:

Outside of Milan, the only other place to have a distillery is in Buenos Aires! They consume a healthy amount of Fernet as it is their national drink! San Francisco takes the gold medal for amount consumed in the United States!

They consume about 35% of the total fernet production sold to the United States. If you’re ever catch yourself in a bar in San Francisco and you see a bartender pour a shot of Fernet for him and a guest, that guest is probably in the hospitality industry, it’s a way of life for them there.

If you can’t handle the bitter beverage alone have a ginger ale chaser! The next time you’re out at a bar, don’t forget or be scared to ask your bartender for a shot of Fernet. Make it two and buy one for your bartender, you might just make a new friend!

Thanks for reading, and as always…

Cheers from,

Happy Hour City