Some tastes take longer to acquire than others. Even those who have accustomed their palates to the robust flavors of whiskey and gin are left breathless by initial encounters with bitter Italian liqueurs. Campari is typically the first amari encountered, with its searing crispness lighting up drinks such as Negronis and Americanos. But even those who have accustomed themselves to Campari's sharp bitterness are often thrown for a loop when first sampling Fernet Branca.
Developed in the mid-19th century as a digestivo, Fernet Branca is Baroquely bitter with a complex aroma and flavor rich with cardamom, gentian and peppermint. While it has a devoted fan base--San Francisco seems to live on the stuff--Fernet Branca has such an assertive flavor that it has no doubt frightened away plenty of novice drinkers.
Here's a cocktail that helps the Fernet Branca-curious start off gently. Pairing the Italian bitter with the crispness of rye whiskey and softening the blow with sugar, the Toronto Cocktail keeps the Fernet from dominating the show. In the same flavor realm as the Boulevardier, the Toronto is a richly flavored, mildly bitter cocktail that also pairs perfectly with a crisp autumn evening.
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.
- 2 ounces rye whiskey
- 1/4 ounce Fernet Branca
- 1/4 ounce simple syrup
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine rye, Fernet, simple syrup, and bitters in a mixing glass and fill with cracked ice. Stir for 20 seconds and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Squeeze a piece of orange peel over the drink and use as garnish.