The Fernando is the brainchild of Employees Only, the celebrated West Village cocktail bar owned and operated by Dushan Zaric, Jason Kosmas et al. According to their excellent cocktail book, this apéritif pays tribute to Italian gastronomy.
The primary ingredient, Fernet-Branca, is designed to be consumed as a postprandial digestivo. Once upon a time, Fernet was thought to be good for what ails ya: it was believed to cure upset stomachs, menstrual cramps, baby colic, and – get this – cholera. The stuff is made from 30 different roots and herbs, including gentian, myrrh, chamomile, saffron and rhubarb; and aged in Slovenian oak vats for one year before being bottled at a healthy 80 proof. Porca l’oca!
Doing a shot of Fernet-Branca is analogous to sleeping soundly in your bed and then having your 2 year old come out of nowhere and stomp on your groin. It has a formidable taste. Quite pungent; it stings the tongue – in a good way. They’ve done studies you know. 60% of the time, it tastes good every time. It is at once bitter, sweet, herbaceous and spicy; redolent of menthol and eucalyptus. On first encounter, some have described the taste as “mouthwash with delusions of grandeur.” Oh my.
Well, the Argentinians love it – they drink more Fernet-Branca than anyone else in the world. In fact, it was so popular that the Branca family set up a distillery in Buenos Aires in 1935. Nowadays, their preferred way to administer this amaro is to mix it with Coca-Cola. Fernet with Coke, or “Fernando” as it is colloquially known, was created in Córdoba in the late 80s; however, its popularity quickly spread to the rest of the country. Given that the Employees Only cocktail shares the same moniker, one can only assume that its name was inspired by this Argentine staple. That, or the EO guys are massive ABBA fans.
- 1¼ oz. Fernet Branca
- 1¾ oz. Martini & Rossi Vermouth Bianco
- ¾ oz. Galliano l’Autentico
Add everything to a mixing glass along with some ice and stir whilst maintaining a stoic and confident expression on your face. I suggest raising one eyebrow slightly. Once you have reached optimal chill and dilution, strain the elixir into a chilled cocktail glass. Place a fresh mint sprig into the palm of your hand and give it a good smack to release the aromatic mint oils. Gently place the mint on the surface of the cocktail… gentle… gentle! Okay, now stand back and marvel.
There might be some witchcraft going on here. Fernet has a somewhat caustic reputation for being a bully and not playing nice with other flavours at the playground – it dominates everything it touches. But not so here. To my befuddlement, the prevalent flavours are chocolate (!) and botanicals, along with a hint of vanilla, giving way to a wonderfully bitter finish. The Fernet-Branca lends an intricate vibrancy to the drink and no doubt contributes to its silky, rich texture. Stupendous. How something so overbearingly bitter like Fernet can be tamed is a testimony to the deft skills of the mixologist. I salute the fellas at Employees Only for this contribution to the “great pageant of American [and Canadian] intoxication.”
I ❤ bitter.