Ring the bell, it's time for Last Call, where JK Grence, bartender at Shady's, serves up booze advice and recipes. Got a burning question for your bartender? Leave it in the comments and it might be answered in a future column.
If you've been into a cocktail-oriented bar in the last year, you may have noticed that a bottle of Fernet Branca has quietly appeared on the back bar. The Italian liqueur is wildly popular among the cocktailian set, becoming a secret handshake of sorts between bartenders. What is it? It's an acquired taste, that's what. It's enough of an acquired taste that Ernest Hemingway hated the stuff, possibly the first time he ever met a drink he didn't like. I don't blame him.
Fernet Branca pours very dark brown, almost as black as midnight. It has a licorice aroma similar to Jägermeister, but without any of the German spirit's sweetness. The easy way to describe the taste is "assertive". The main flavor of it is bitter, herbaceous, and medicinal. Your first taste of it is unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. This taste was a boon during Prohibition, when it was sold in the United States as medicine. It does have nicely restorative properties, settling the stomach after a heavy meal better than anything else I've tried.
In the Western hemisphere, Fernet is wildly popular in two places. The first is Argentina, where Fernet and Coke is practically the national drink. The other place is San Francisco, where the preferred after-work tipple for bar and restaurant employees is shots of Fernet with a ginger ale chaser. The folks at celebrated San Francisco speakeasy Bourbon & Branch created the Eva Perón cocktail to celebrate both traditions. It's a great way to introduce yourself to the mystique of Fernet Branca. The ginger tames Fernet's harsh nature, letting you ease into the complex flavor without feeling like you've been smacked in the face with a piece of licorice root the size of a baseball bat.
Eva Perón 1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice 1 ounce Italian sweet vermouth (preferably Carpano Antica) 1 ounce Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur 1 ounce Fernet Branca 1 ounce ginger beer
Shake everything but ginger beer with ice. Strain into a Collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a wheel of lime.
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