Most people come to know Fernet through Branca: that mysterious inky elixir, bitter and herbal, with its secret ingredients and a bona fide count (as in, “ah-ah-ah!”) behind it. Fernet-Branca may be the most popular – and perhaps even the first commercial brand – of its particular breed of amaro, but it’s not alone. A number of distilleries produce their own versions, both in the liqueur’s native Italy and abroad — including several American-made incarnations. As we fête the beautifully bitter spirit this week, we’ve decided to look beyond Branca to its fellow Fernets, from near and far. Here are eight to seek out.
1. Luxardo: Originally based on the Dalmatian Coast of what is now Croatia, this nearly 200-year-old Northern Italian company is best known for its maraschino cherry liqueur. It also makes a Fernet, said to contain such botanicals as licorice, condurango, cardamom, cinnamon, gentian, saffron and cinchona. The more than 120-year-old recipe has found new fans in the U.S., particularly in Fernet-crazy San Francisco.
2. Angelico: California-based Tempus Fugit Spirits is committed to delivering beautifully crafted Old World–style spirits and liqueurs, including a line of absinthes, a violette liqueur and an authentic kina. Their latest effort is a Fernet, meant to hit the shelves this year, but delayed. Those who have gotten their hands on some report great things – a spiced, herbaceous delight.
3. Leopold: This family-owned Denver distillery makes gin, vodka, whiskey, absinthe and several liqueurs, including a sharp, biting Fernet. Said to contain more than 20 botanicals, spearmint and aloe give this homegrown liqueur a strong menthol accent.
4. Stock: The Czech brand was first produced in 1927 in Plzen Bozkov by a displaced Italian named Lionello Stock. The company now produces several Fernets, including a citrus-infused one and a Scotch barrel-aged version. For better or for worse, these aren’t available in the U.S.
5. 1882: Available only in Argentina, this one is still worth noting. Argentines love their Fernet so much – it’s widely considered to be the national drink – that a domestic distillery thought it wise to launch a local brand.
6. R. Jelinek: Hailing from the spa town of Luhacovice, in the Czech Republic, this 100-plus-year-old Fernet brand boasts more baking spice than bitterness. Lighter in color and consistency than Branca, it’s more reminiscent of a fruitcake than a Jagerbomb.
7. Vallet: If you’re from Mexico and have a penchant for dark, bitter liqueurs, then you’re probably familiar with this Fernet. Laced with cinnamon, clove, Quassia wood, gentian root and cardamom, it’s also available on this side of the border.
8. Housemade Fernet: Expect this to be the next hot trend. Now that cocktail bars are making their own vermouth and amaro, housemade fernet is the next inevitable step. Essex, in Seattle, opened this summer with its signature version of the liqueur on the menu. It’s served in house cocktails and by its pleasantly bitter self.