It's dark, it's brooding, some people mistake it for cough syrup. Yet the Italian amaro Fernet Branca is the favored drink (let's be honest: favorite shot) of bartenders across the country. It seems like they must give you a bottle when you get your bartending license, along with the fitted vest and mustache-grooming kit.
Though its American popularity is a recent development, Fernet Branca—which most folks just call "Fernet," though there are other Fernet brands, too—has quite a history. First produced in Milan in 1845, its precise formula is a tightly guarded secret; but here's what you need to know: It's bitter. Not bittersweet like Campari, bitter in a spine-tingling, scalp-prickling, smack-you-in-the-face kind of way. But once you get past the intensity, you can start to appreciate Fernet's varied herbal flavors. Think of these three drinks as your introduction to the world of Fernet; start here, and pretty soon you’ll be throwing back shots with the mustachioed bartenders at your local.