I think it’s fair to say that probably no one really likes martinis as beginning drinkers. Vodka martinis might go down a bit easier than gin, but to neophytes, martinis taste pretty much like straight booze, and not in a good way. No wonder most of us start with rum and Coke, screwdrivers, the hated (by me…even when I was drinking them) Long Island Ice Teas, and my early favorite, Kamikazes (I’ll probably do that one eventually). Indeed, the only reason I developed my early affection for vodka martinis, which later graduated to gin, was that I really love olives and found green ones tasted extra-delicious after soaking in alcohol for a bit. So, it was sort of refreshing to find that I can still acquire a taste, as this week’s drink did not go down well initially.
I wasn’t alone. Frankly, the Fernet Branca Cocktail doesn’t seem to have many fans. I got it from Harry Craddock’s classic Savoy Cocktail Book, which regular readers will note I’ve been referring to a lot recently. Still, this particular drink is more esoteric than most. Indeed, the only online reference I could find was a 2008 post from Erik Ellestad’s Savoy Stomp blog. Ellestad’s project (still ongoing as far as I can tell) is to make every cocktail in Craddock’s recipe-filled tome. He didn’t seem overly fond of this one. Still, I got to sorta like the drink named for perhaps the ultimate cult liqueur.
The Fernet Branca Cocktail
3/4 ounce Fernet Branca
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth (or, maybe, Punt e Mes)
1 1/2 ounce gin
Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with tons of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail shaker. Sip slowly, perhaps toasting St. Patrick, who was not only the patron saint of the Irish, but also of second chances.
Harry Craddock promotes this drink as a hangover cure, and it’s true that Fernet began its life as a stomach medicine. Nevertheless, my initial reaction was that, while it might not be an effective cure for hangovers, it was probably nasty enough it might prevent future ones by discouraging you from drinking at all.
I tried it again. This time, though, I used one of my favorite ingredients, Punt e Mes, a delicious vermouth with more of a bitter edge than most brands. I seemed to like it better now. Was the chocolatey bitterness of the Punt e Mes somehow cancelling out the more acrid/medicinal flavor of the Fernet? Well, then I tried it again with good ol’ sweet Noilly Pratt and I found I liked it better still. I guess I was just getting used to it.
Now, will the Fernet Branca Cocktail ever become a personal go-to drink for me the way a martini is now? I really don’t think so. Still, it is a way to acquaint ourselves with the many odd, and I do mean odd, flavors of Fernet.