Fernet Branca is a dark, oily alcoholic drink similar to an amaro, but less sweet. The flavour might best be described as being a cross between medicine, crushed plants, and bitter mud. Like most strong drinks in Italy, Fernet is usually drunk at the end of the meal as a digestive aid. It’s also a popular hangover cure when added to an espresso. The exact recipe of Fernet Branca is a secret but the producers, Fratelli Branca Distillerie, do say that it contains 27 different herbs and spices taken from four continents.
Invented in Milan, Italy by Bernandino Branca in 1845, Fernet-Branca is one of the higher proof fernet (78 proof / 39% ABV), and also one of the lowest in sugar. Fratelli Branca Distillerie claim that the recipe has remained unchanged since its invention in 1845. According to the company, Fernet was created by the “self-taught apothecary” Bernardino Branca.The name “Fernet” comes from one Doctor Fernet, a fictional Swede with whom Branca originally shared the credit for his drink, presumably to add authority to claims of the drink’s health benefits.The logo, featuring an eagle poised over a globe, was designed in 1893 by Leopoldo Metlicovitz.
In Argentina, fernet is the liquor for all occasions. Argentina downs more fernet than any other country, though the bitter originated in Italy, a country where more than half of Argentines claim ancestry, way back in the mid-1800s. It even earned a theme song in the ’90s: “Fernet con cola,” about the bona fide national beverage by Argentine rock band Vilma Palma e Vampiros.
Many health benefits claimed for Fernet Branca; in a sense, it’s the world’s most successful snake oil. A newspaper advertisement from 1865 claimed this “renowned liqueur” to be “febrifuge, vermifuge, tonic, invigorating, warming and anti-choleric”.
The drink’s numerous medicinal claims came in handy during the American prohibition; as a medicine, Fernet Branca was still legal.