Fernet Branca ($29.99)
Fresh peppermint with blast of menthol and dry, bitter herb finish
Branca Menta ($26.99)
Mint version of Fernet Branca with a herbal, bitterness and strong mint flavor
Made in Italy, imported by Branca Products
Fernet Stock ($29.99)
Intensely bitter, deeply herbal
Fernet Stock Citrus ($29.99)
Citrus fruits with subtle sweetness and slightly lower ABV
Fernet Stock Exclusive ($29.99)
Aged in small oak Scotch whisky barrels
Fernet Stock Z Generation ($29.99)
Uses ginger and mango for a fresh, slightly sweet flavor
Made in Plzeň-Božkov, Czech Republic and Trieste, Italy, imported by Stock Spirits
Fernet Leopold ($35.99)
Bitter aloe and spearmint create a cool, sweet menthol taste
Made in the United States, imported by Leopold Bros.
Less bitter, menthol flavors and more herbal and saffron notes
Made in the United States, imported by Tempus Fugit Spirits
Luxardo Fernet ($23.99)
Prolonged infusion of herbs and spices creates earthy, herbal, and spicy notes
Made in Italy, imported by Preiss Imports
Fernet 1882 ($53.99, not available in U.S.)
Designed to taste best with Coca-Cola
Made in Argentina
Fernet Valletor ($23.99)
Intensely herbal, woodsy flavor
Made in Mexico, imported by Haas Brothers
R. Jelínek Fernet ($15.49)
Slightly less bitter with prominent flavors of clove, prune, and mint
Made in Czech Republic, imported by R. Jelínek USA, Inc.
Prices reflect approximate wholesale costs
If you've been to an after-hours bar or industry party, you've probably slugged back a shot of bitter, medicinal Fernet Branca. You may even own a Fernet Branca challenge coin, entitling you to free shots if fellow bartenders can't produce their own. Developed in 1845 by Bernadino Branco, the Italian amaro is a blend of 40 ingredients, including saffron, aloe, gentian, bitter orange, and galangal, the spirit ages in oak barrels for one year to ferment and yield its distinct flavor—likened to licorice-flavored Listerine.
In San Francisco, Fernet has been the city's favorite end-of-shift drink for decades, purportedly dating back to Prohibition when bars served it legally as a medicinal beverage. "San Francisco is the beloved second home of Fernet Branca," says Mixologist Jason Brown, formerly of Txoko.
San Francisco alone accounts for approximately 25 percent of Fernet Branca sales in the United States. "It's literally the ‘San Francisco bartender's treat,"says Fifth Floor Bar Manager Brian Means, who recalls with a mixture of fondness and regret his days in the East Bay when fellow bartenders sipped shots during their shifts.
For the uninitiated, Fernet Branca is versatile, complex, and uninhibitedly bitter, and it can work as a digestif, cocktail modifier, or potent hangover cure (the herbs really work). And unlike some of its sweeter amaro cousins, its bright acidity and herbal notes deliver a clean finish to cocktails.
But Fernet Branca isn't the only fernet in town these days, and even its most ardent SF fans are experimenting with fernets from European and American producers. California distiller Tempus Fugit Spirits produces Angelico Fernet and Denver's Leopold Brothers now makes Fernet Leopold. Fernet Branca distills its own Fernet Menta. "They all add different dimensions," says Jasper's Corner Tap & Kitchen Bar Manager Kevin Diedrich, who is lucky enough to sample varieties from all over the world thanks to the bar's Hotel Serano neighbor. "We get people who fill up little vials of different kinds of fernet from all over and drop them off. We're getting to taste a lot of stuff and play around."
5th Floor Mixologist Brian Means serves three distinct fernet flavors in one sitting with his Fernet Trio. Generally sipped alone, fernet does not usually pair well with food, but it's easy to pair different varieties of fernet. For his trifecta, Means presents Fernet-Branca ice cream, a shot of Czech-produced Stock Fernet, and a proper cocktail with a Fernet Leopold base. With the classic Branca, the fiery Stock, and lean Leopold, Means illustrates the range of fernet flavor profiles and all its potential charms (mouthwash notwithstanding).