Every bottle is full of secrets
What gives Fernet-Branca its bitter, minty flavor? Tough to say, chum, when it contains 27 natural “roots, plants, and flowers.” Fratelli Branca is surprisingly open about what those are. Its known ingredients are aloe ferox, gentian, saffron (the company buys so much of the world’s saffron that it actually affects the spice's market price), Chinese rhubarb, chamomile, galangal, myrrh, laurel, cinchona, zedoary, bitter orange, laraha, cardamom, cornflower, peppermint oil, juniper, bay leaf, angelica, colombo root, and orris root (derived from the iris flower).
Some of the herbs are boiled, then left to settle for a month. Others go into a cold centrifuge. The processed herbs are combined in brandy, where they’ll blend in a 50,000-liter tank for 20 days. After that, they’re moved to smaller barrels made of Slavonian oak, where they’ll rest for a year while the aloe matures. The rest of the ingredients hang out, checking their watches and saying “Come on, aloe!”
If you’re wondering about those remaining elements, they’re rumored to include linden, sage, gentian root, and St. John’s wort, but don’t get sad that you’re still a few ingredients short. Fernet-Branca could release the full list and your homemade batch would still be garbage: the proportions and production methods heavily affect the final flavor.
In fact, the company keeps a collection of imitations produced by competitors on display in Milan, like a trophy case of relics from dead warriors who tried to claim the throne. Why did they even try to copy it? The real deal is right in front of you and far easier to acquire.
It’s as much a heritage as a business
“I have to tell you the truth,” says Edoardo. “I never wanted to work in the company. The first eight years, I worked for the banking system. Step by step, my father taught me the values and the legacy. When I entered the company I was very proud. I saw so many things the family has done over the generations. I really understand the tradition and what my father was carrying on.”
But even a young count gets treated just like everyone else. Edoardo had to grind the same as all the other employees. “It’s a tough job. You’re always on a plane,” he admits, but his complaints were met with gentle rebuke. His father brought him to a map of the company’s distribution a century and a half ago, and said, “Look, Edoardo, this is where we were selling in only 1872. Practically all around the world! Imagine the portfolio managers back then doing your job, taking a boat and spending six months abroad and then coming back home.”
Reflecting back on this, Edoardo laughs. “Ah! Maybe you’re right.”