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The July Square at Manresa. Courtesy of Manresa.
Bartenders familiar with the dark, medicinal Italian liqueur Fernet Branca as a digestive or hangover cure are now using it in fantastic, herbaceous cocktails. The long-standing industry favorite earned extra buzz last month as the main component in San Francisco Cocktail Week's signature drink: The Black Lily with Fernet, citrusy Cointreau and fresh lime juice over ice.
Fernet is especially popular on the West Coast. Outside of San Francisco in Los Gatos, CA, the bar at chef David Kinch's incredible Manresa restaurant offers The July Square—Fernet muddled with fresh chocolate mint leaves (a type of mint with a distinct cocoa aroma), shaken with egg whites, vanilla extract and a Caraway infusion, then strained and served in a martini glass.
Beverage director Jeff Bareilles found inspiration for the cocktail on a trip to Argentina, where Fernet is often added to Coke. “I saw it in a completely different light,” Bareilles says. “It felt like a spirit that made people happy.” To echo Coca-Cola's qualities without soda, Bareilles uses egg white for a frothy texture, while cardamom and vanilla imitate the sweet cola flavors. Bareilles now loves Fernet in cocktails but still appreciates its curative properties. After all, the liqeur was developed in Italy as a medicinal tonic. “It brings you up, it settles your stomach, it clears your mind,” Bareilles explains. “It’s a secret recipe—I’ve been told there are ground-up flies' wings in it. It’s a mad scientist concoction. But somehow or other it works.”
The Wayland, New York
The Alphabet City bar mixes Fernet Branca with house-made cola on tap and calls it the San Fran Spout, in honor of the liqueur’s West Coast ubiquity. It's served over ice with lemon.
OX bartender Jamal Hassan created the LA YAPA cocktail as a take on a tiki drink. In lieu of a traditional rum base, he mixes rye whiskey with Fernet, spicy-sweet Velvet Falernum, house-made grenadine, fresh lemon juice and a dash of Angostura bitters.
RM Seafood, Las Vegas
The fall cocktail menu at Rick Moonen’s global seafood restaurant in the Manadalay Bay Resort features the intensely bitter and floral Down for the Count: Fernet Branca, oak-aged Casa Noble Anejo tequila, St. Germain, fresh lemon juice, agave nectar and Aztec Chocolate Bitters, shaken and poured over ice in a rocks glass.
Pour Vous, Los Angeles
One of Jim Meehan’s ten favorite new bars, Pour Vous puts the bitter liqueur in La Danse Diable. The rich blend with Cognac, Maraschino liqueur, lemon bitters and house-made grenadine is shaken and strained into a glass with a twist of lemon.