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  • Writer's pictureJohn B. Reyna

Fernet-Branca, the iconic amaro soaring above all others

We're sticking with Italian bitter liqueurs for a second week in a row. Much like Campari, Fernet-Branca is generally an acquired taste. In the world of amaros, it is one of the most bitter and dense examples and can easily overwhelm a cocktail if caution is not used. Yet, as you will see in the cocktails below, when used properly, it can be a powerful ally in your cocktail game.


In 1845, Bernadino Branca created Fernet-Branca in Milan, Italy. The Fratelli Branca Distillerie, which Bernadino’s family owns, still produces Fernet-Branca along with other products like Carpano Antica Formula and Punt e Mes, which are two of our favorite vermouths.

There are two legends about the “Fernet” portion of the name. I won’t dull you with the boring one, albeit probably the correct version, and instead provide the more glamorous tale. Bernadino Branca was an herbalist who met a Swedish chemist, Mr. Fernet. Together, they produced and sold a medicine, Fernet-Branca. Thanks to the magical medicine, Mr. Fernet’s family all lived to see 100 or so the story goes. While the mysterious Mr. Fernet is likely a fictitious marketing ploy, it is true that Fernet-Branca was sold as a medicine.

When Fernet-Branca was created, one of the leading causes of death in Milan was cholera. Bernadino delivered Fernet-Branca to hospitals where it was given to patients with cholera. Because of the constant vomiting that comes with cholera, Fernet-Branca helped cholera patients gain an appetite, earning the medicinal reputation.

Riding off its success, early advertisements marketed Fernet-Branca as a “renown liqueur” that was “febrifuge, vermifuge, tonic, invigorating, warming and anti-choleric.” Fernet-Branca's cure-all properties reached such status that it was prescribed in Milanese hospitals and sold in Italian pharmacies through the 1930s.

The allure of Fernet-Branca’s medicinal properties crossed the Atlantic as early as 1862. Shorty thereafter, Fernet-Branca was sold in pharmacies as well as in bars. During Prohibition, Fernet-Branca was sold for its medicinal value, which allowed the sale to get around the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Later, Fernet-Branca switched from being a medicine to being a digestif and an aperitif. An aperitif is served before a meal to increase your hunger. A digestif is served after a meal to help digestion. Fernet-Branca is a dual threat, great before and after a meal.

According to Count Edoardo Branca, the sixth-generation family member of Fratelli Branca, Fernet-Branca began its journey to cult status in the US around 1999 with the emergence of the craft cocktail culture.


Like most famous liqueurs, the Fernet-Branca recipe is a secret. It is only known to the chairman of the company. However, the Fratelli Branca Distillerie has disclosed that the recipe is made up of twenty-seven herbs, roots, and spices. The known ingredients are chinchona bark, aloe ferox, bitter orange, cardamom, chamomile, galangal, laraha, laurel, myrrh, rhubarb root, saffron, and zedoaria. Still, even the quantities of those known ingredients are a secret.

The logo and other artwork

In 1886, Fratelli Branca Distillerie began printing calendars to advertise its products on the global market. The company embraced the emergence of the Art Nouveau movement in the calendars.

Leopoldo Metlicovitz was one of the artist commissioned for the calendars, and he was also responsible for the now iconic Fernet-Branca logo of an eagle holding a Fernet-Branca bottle while it flies over a globe.

San Francisco connection

San Francisco, California has always held a special bond with Fernet-Branca. The first receipt for sale of Fernet-Branca in the US is from 1862 in San Francisco.

San Franciscans are still ordering plenty of Fernet-Branca. That city alone is responsible for 35% of the US’s imported bottles. Fernet-Branca is the real San Francisco Treat!

Argentina’s infatuation

Argentina also has a love affair with Fernet. Today, the only Fratelli Branca distillery outside of Italy is located in Argentina. Argentina accounts for 80% of Fernet-Branca’s total worldwide sales. If that wasn't enough, the country’s unofficial drink is Fernet-Branca and cola (Fernet con cola). That's some serious love for Fernet-Branca.

Enough with the pleasantries, let’s go make some cocktails!

San Francisco Treat

1 oz Fernet-Branca amaro

1 oz Averna amaro

1 oz Dolin Blanc vermouth (do not use dry vermouth)

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Stir.

Strain the mixing glass contents into a chilled Old-Fashioned glass.

Next up . . .

Hanky Panky

2 oz gin

1.5 oz sweet vermouth

0.25 oz Fernet Branca amaro

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Fill with ice. Stir.

Strain the mixing glass contents into a chilled coupe.

One last note, if a bartender sends you a shot of Fernet-Branca, you can consider yourself a made man, like in the movie Goodfellas. In many places, that act is considered a bartender’s handshake. Only given to those friends in the industry or a patron who has exceptional taste and who would appreciate the not so subtle nuances of Fernet-Branca.

Sending love from high above the globe,











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