15 things you didn't know about fernet

If you've lived in San Francisco for any substantial amount of time (and've left the Marina at least once), there's a good chance you've thrown back a shot or two of our city's either-loved-or-reviled drink of choice: fernet. And despite the fact that there're entire bar crawls dedicated to the stuff, there's still a ton you don't know about this bitter, aromatic spirit. It's time we filled you in (and hooked you up with $1 shots, too).

Fernet Branca Barback Games
Fernet Branca

1. San Francisco consumes more fernet than anywhere else in the US
This itty-bitty, 49sq-mile city alone manages to go through around 35% of all the bottles of fernet imported into the States, meaning -- along with soaring rent prices -- there are now two things that we are unquestionably better at than New York.

Three Wise Men
Flickr/Waiting for the Word

2. Jesus would've loved it
Or at the very least, one of his Magi buddies would've been totally down. Though the full recipe is a secret, it's definitely acknowledged that Fernet Branca contains myrrh, which supposedly has skin cleansing properties, has been used medicinally for more than 3000 years, and today is also utilized in mouthwash.

3. Fernet is the opposite of Kleenex
In that, when you say "Kleenex", you actually mean "tissue", and when you say "fernet", you actually mean "Fernet Branca" -- the originator of the fernet liquor and the form you are most used to, though there are several others, including a couple of American-made versions like the Leopold Bros' Fernet Leopold and Tempus Fugit's Fernet Angelico.

Do not pass go

4. Fernet Branca basically has a monopoly
And not the kind where after six hours your friends finally give up because they want to play something else -- the kind where they are one of the highest consumers (if not the highest) of the world's yearly crop of saffron, meaning they seriously influence the price, which goes as high as thousands of dollars per pound. Crazy, right?

5. KFC and the Brancas have something in common
Both of these places have the full recipe for their stuff so locked down, that only a couple of people in the world know the full thing (the Colonel and Foghorn Leghorn [we're assuming] for KFC, and for Fernet Branca, it's the owner of the brand Niccolo Branca, who's 1) a fifth generation descendant of the originator Bernardino Branca, and 2) an actual Count. Ah! Ah! Ah!).

Don't Cry for Me Argentina
Flickr/David Berkowitz

6. The only place that maybe likes the stuff better than us is Argentina
Buenos Aires is currently home to the only Fernet Branca distillery outside of Milan, and the national drink is Fernet & Coke, which is so popular it actually has its own song.

7. It got actors in trouble
An actress was apparently suspended from the Actors' Equity Union in 1960 for spiking the finicky guy from The Odd Couple's onstage-drink with fernet. Old-time stars, they're just like us!


8. You could probably use it in Final Fantasy
Though Americans classify it as being of the Amaro family, in many Italian liquor guides, it's actually named as an Elixir -- mostly because every time you take a shot, your MP is completely restored.

9. It might actually be medicine?
Okay, well, probably not, but when it was first sold, there were claims it helped with everything from night sweats, digestion, and menstrual cramps to actually being anti-aging. There're also claims that if you drink only fernet, you won't get a hangover. Though, personal experience puts the lie to those last two.

Flickr/Bryan Pocius

10. Fernet was in Manhattan before it was cool
Actually due to the extremely high demand, a year before the repeal of the 18th Amendment, the Branca family had to open an American distillery in TriBeCa, which, unfortunately, is no longer there. Probably because it got too played out.

11. It defied Prohibition
Since Fernet Branca was so heavily marketed as medicinal (and even used in hospitals), it actually was seen as curative and allowed to be sold in San Francisco pharmacies during Prohibition. Sound familiar?

Hello Fernet Games
Fernet Branca

12. They collect impostors!
Along with quality-control bottles of all the past vintages, the distillery also has a room filled with Fernet Branca impostors, who probably would've gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling (21yr-old) kids!

13. There could be a little extra in a pre-1978 bottle
After the Drug Regulation Reform Act of 1978 was passed, it's claimed the Feds clamped down on Fernet Branca and made them enact a very rare change to the recipe in order to bring opiate levels down to legal levels. Fernet Branca, though, asserts that the recipe has never changed. Better check just to make sure.

My handy personal book collection

14. It's a literary classic
Okay, maybe not exactly, but it does get a mention in F. Scott Fitzgerald's best book that wasn't adapted into a 3D monstrosity with Leo DiCaprio, Tender Is the Night.

15. You've never tasted Argentinian fernet
At least, not the Branca version, because even though they are arguably closer to us than Milan, all of Buenos Aires' product is only shipped to South America, while we get ours from Italy. There's no comment on whether or not the recipe differs at all, but there's anecdotal evidence it may, in fact, taste different. Book that flight now!

Oh, and about those $1 shots: they were a one-day-only thing, but thanks to our buddies over at the Bullitt + Tonic + Mayhem + Lightning Tavern + Wild HareSoda Popinski'sRoyal Tug Yacht Club empire for loving fernet too and giving those out to our readers.