Fernet Branca: Keeping it in the family

World Best Bar

Jul 27, 2018

Fernet Branca: Keeping it in the family
What delights does this leading brand of Italian amaro have to offer? Step inside Fernet Branca’s San Francisco speakeasy to explore the brand and the dynasty behind its success.

Entering Fernet Branca’s snug hide-away is like turning back the clock to 1960s Italy. With gleaming mahogany bars, sophisticated leather seating and ceiling-high bookshelves, you leave the hustle and bustle of 21st century life at the door, trading the glare and noise of the modern world for soft Mediterranean glamour.

This chic and retro destination, courtesy of Per La Mente – Fernet Branca’s lifestyle and culture platform – offers an opportunity to sip themed cocktails, listen to throwback Italian tunes, and enjoy the collection of vintage ads and poster-art that line the walls. You would be forgiven for thinking you had time-travelled back to the Belle Époque.

Here Fernet Branca hosts tasting events where you have the chance to enjoy a range of vintage spirits from the 1970s and 80s under the guidance of Edoardo Branca, sixth generation member of the Branca dynasty and expert on the secrets of this family-recipe turned legendary brand.

It’s not a coincidence that the bar is located in San Francisco – Fernet Branca is intimately involved in the city’s drinking culture. This where the brand first made a name for itself in the US back in 1862, although the recipe was invented over twenty years earlier in Milan. Originally created as a remedy for indigestion and – allegedly – a hangover antidote, the recipe has barely changed in the 173 years since Edoardo’s great-grandfather, Bernardino Branca, concocted the drink for the first time.

It hasn’t needed to. Fernet Branca has become one of Italy’s best-known liqueurs and a favourite among those who know their spirits. The recipe – handed down generation to generation –includes a combination of herbs and roots from around the world: aloe from India, chamomile from Argentina or Italy, as well as cardamon, saffron and rhubarb. With its herbal, almost medicinal flavour, it is certainly an ‘acquired taste’, but, according to fans, a taste worth acquiring.

Side-stepping the law during Prohibition, with the excuse that it was more of a medicine than alcohol, Fernet-Branca’s popularity has recently sky-rocketed across the US, but especially in San Francisco. It can be found in bars across the city and is the post-shift drink of choice for bartenders, even giving birth to the expression ‘bartenders shake’ for when a bartender serves himself and another person a shot of Fernet Branca.

It’s not just a one-trick pony either. Fernet Branca makes for a great addition to cocktails including:
<h3><b>Hanky Panky</b></h3>
This is the best known Fernet Branca cocktail recipe and perfect for persuading those drinkers not yet convinced by the spirit.

1.5 oz gin

1.5 oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes Fernet Branca

Stir ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Add a small orange twist as garnish.


This is similar to a Manhattan but with a strong, bitter menthol flavour. Word is that “fanciulli” is Italian slang for “the boys”.

1.5 oz rye whisky

0.75 oz punt e Mes

0.25 oz Fernet Branca

Served over a large ice cube and with orange peel garnish.

<b>Don’t Give Up the Ship</b>

A quirky gin-based cocktail that certainly packs a punch.

1.5 oz gin

0.5 oz Carpano Antica

0.5 oz Fernet Branca

0.5 oz Cointreau

1 dash orange bitters

Serve with orange peel.

Fernet Branca is now world-famous, its unique taste seducing drinkers around the globe. Not bad for a spirit that began life as a stomach medicine, wouldn’t you agree?

Photo by Zoltan Kovacs on Unsplash

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