Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fernet Branca: The Toronto

First, you need to know that Fernet Branca is one of the scariest liquids I’ve put in my mouth in a long, long time; second, that it is a liqueur highly regarded by the cocktail community.

I warned Leah,“Only buy one bottle,” but, ever-vigilant of quantity discounts, we've got three. Fernet Branca is an amaro, which doesn't come from the Latin word for love, but rather is Italian for “bitter and tragically disgusting yet for some reason we are compelled to drink it.”

Describing Fernet Branca as medicinal and herbal with notes of eucalyptus and mint is a serious understatement; that would be like describing gasoline fumes as earthy and peppery. Think camphor meets green Nyquil. Or, have you ever used Alkalol? Alkalol is a “natural formula” brown menthol liquid that you snort into your sinuses, which both cleanses them of pollen and burns all the flesh off of your nasal passages. Alkalol and Fernet Branca: separated at birth?

If I haven’t scared you away yet, then on to the cocktails! With much trepidation, I poured our first drink: Fernet Branca and Coca-Cola, wildly popular in Argentina.

The responses from the elite panel of judges: Dad says it tastes like Vicks VapoRub meets birch beer. Leah says, "I wouldn’t dump it out," but I notice she doesn’t drink any more of it, and later, she dumps it out. I like the bitter finish, but I simply can’t stomach the menthol edge.

Take two. I mix Fernet Branca with something bolder than Coke: Finger Lakes Distilling’s McKenzie rye whiskey. The resulting drink, the Toronto, is a classic reminiscent of an Old Fashioned, but with an invigorating smack in the nostrils and a bitter finish. The three of us agree we can almost appreciate this cocktail.

Supposedly, Fernet Branca is an acquired taste that develops only with regular drinking. Stay tuned: We’ll revisit this one in a second column and see if the Fernet Branca lands on the bar beside the Campari, or on the bathroom counter next to the neti pot.

The second - more hopeful - post in the Fernet Branca series can be found here: http://feliciaspeakeasy.blogspot.com/2010/05/fernet-branca-pipe-cleaner.html

The Toronto

2 oz Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie rye whiskey
¼ ounce Fernet Branca
¼ ounce simple syrup
twist of orange peel

Pour all ingredients over ice. Stir for twenty seconds. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

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frederic said...

The Toronto is probably the most common gateway drink for Fernet, although some of the older recipes were as high as equal parts. Other ingredients which can tone down Fernet are sweet vermouth and Cherry Heering (well, besides egg white).

mhaithaca said...

I'd probably try the Toronto, since it seems a close kin to the Daniele Noonan I've enjoyed, made with Maker's and Averna, another Italian bitter.

Do keep the Fernet Branca away from the Campari, though. That's the most noxious substance known to man, and we don't want the Fernet getting any ideas.

iconoclast said...

I recommend a few dashes of angostura, along with the fernet. Opens it up a bit, and, suprisingly, does not make it more bitter

Rhett said...

Don't be so afraid of bitter flavours, guys! I am just finishing a whole series on Fernet this month showing contributions from some awesome bars in the Pacific Northwest. Most of the drinks are much more palatable than even the Toronto (though I find that one super tame).
Also, mhaithaca, Campari and Fernet actually pair extremely well together when balanced. Check out the "Bittercup" cocktail in my series.
Most spirits and cocktails are acquired tastes, but I think Fernet in particular gets a bad rap.