Fernet Branca is an acquired taste: that mentholated scent, the sweet richness. It's oddly bitter and syrupy, reminding some people of mouthwash (though for others, it's a celebrated secret handshake.) As Nate Cavalieri wrote in SF Weekly, this herbal Italian quaff "most often gets compared to Campari and Jägermeister, though by measure of accuracy, it's equally similar to Robitussin or Pennzoil."
But Branca's just the most widely available brand of Fernet, and there are other options in this family of amari. We recently hit two other bottles of Fernet to investigate.
Luxardo Fernet has a more herbal scent than the Branca; it's drier and earthier as you sniff, and the mint is less evident. There's chocolate and coffee and a little black licorice in its place, and a layer of peaty smoke. The taste is mellow, too, but evolves into a dry and bitter tobacco-like finish that lingers. If you've always found Fernet Branca cloying, this other brand will appeal.
Fernet Leopold is a newer option, brewed up in Denver, Colorado by Leopold Bros. I gotta say, I kind of love it. It pours a little lighter in color, with a bright, lemon-pine scent. It's fiercely herbal (think rosemary and thyme) cut with lemon, orange, caramel, and cinnamon. It feels fresher than the others, packed with peppermint, orange, and cinnamon, with just enough sweetness to be balanced. (There's more than a hint of Ricola throat drops here, but we find ourselves oddly drawn to it.) We'd happily drink Fernet Leopold on the rocks with a lemon twist, or thinned out with soda on a hot afternoon. Come winter, we'll be stirring it into our hot cocoa.
Have you tried Fernet beyond Branca? Are you a fan?
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