September 15, 2014

On Temper Tantrums, Meltdowns, Heartburn, and Italian Digestifs - Fernet Branca Review


Imagine these words echoing off the walls of the handicapped stall in the men's room of the Museum of Natural History while you're getting kicked in the nuts repeatedly by a squirming, crying, red-faced toddler.  

Little Rock Star (LRS) had quite a weekend.  No matter how good a parent you are, they don't call 'em "The Terrible Twos" for nothing.  You can try to be patient, you can try being stern, sometimes it just doesn't matter.  They're going to freak out.

It started when the security guard broke the news to LRS that she couldn't actually climb on the triceratops. Tyrannical bastard!  Why put a perfectly good sixty-eight million year old dinosaur-shaped jungle gym up if you can't play on it??  Sometimes life just doesn't make sense.  And just when the tears started to bubble up in her little eyes, I saw it coming.  The knees pulled inward, the stomach clenched, her face made that little flatulent pucker...  She was about to take a crap on the floor of the museum.  

Up she went into my arms, stroller in tow, in a b-line to the nearest facility.  Toss the stroller outside, try to avert her eyes from the row of exposed penises at the urinals, lock the stall, pants down, praying I have a few precious moments to mop stranger urine off the seat before it's too late.  

Already aggravated by the egregious dinosaur regulations, LRS is having none of it.  Screaming, crying, "NO DADDY, NO NO NO!  I DON'T HAVE TO GO! I NEVER WANT TO POOP AGAIN!!!"  You know how loud it sounds against the harsh acoustics of men's room marble?  Like a combination of Kindergarden Cop and Jurassic Park.  

After a day like that there's only two things you can do.  Call in reinforcements and pour yourself a drink.  Wifey arrives armed with chocolate milk and an iPad full of Dora the Explorer.  We get LRS fed and calmed down, home, dinner, bath, story, bed, and retire to our blissful cave of whiskey and silence.  

The only problem?  The episode leaves me with crippling heartburn.  Chalk it up to the combination of verbal abuse, bad parent guilt, testicle pain, and a questionable Cobb Salad from the diner, but my stomach was not in a drinking mood.  

What to do when your brain needs a drink but your intestinal tract throws a veto?  There's only one answer: Fernet Branca.  This amazing digestif has calmed the stomacos of generations of Italians after they spent the day drinking coffee and red wine, smoking cigarettes, and screaming curses at their extended families.  

Since it's creation in 1845, the Branca family has passed down the secret recipe of their family bitters from generation to generation with only one Branca to ever know its exact details at any given time. Fernet is a mixture of herbs like Myrrh (you always knew it was used for SOMETHING right?), linden, galangal, chamomile, saffron, iris, and gentian.  Here's how they describe it:
"Take the first sip and pause a few seconds to introduce yourself to the decisive bitter tone of the Colombo and Aloe and the unmistakeable character of Gentian. The second sip will reveal the distinct spiced flavor of Zedoary and the full flavor of Chamomile.But the overall richness of Fernet-Branca is not revealed until the third and final sip when the balanced bitter aftertaste prevails over the spicy tones of Myrrh."
Tasting Notes

Appearance:  Dark dark dark.  Midnight black with little highlights of plum when you hold it up to the light.

Nose:  What can I say, it's bitter!  There's a lot of menthol / cough syrup going on.  Some dry strong herbals.  I guess it's all those things they described above, but they're hard to differentiate.  Definitely some fresh earth, mud, roots, and general garden rot.  

Palate:  It's thick yet dry and, surprise surprise, extremely bitter.  I love bitters, but even for me this is something I that requires a particular mood.  It's actually very drinkable, sort of like gin on crack with botanicals, quinine, anise, it's extremely powerful but goes down smooth.  Kind of like Jagermeister with a lot less syrup and a lot more finesse and class.

Finish:  Crisp finish, the herbals cancel out any alcohol taste and leave you with a nice sensation of menthol numbness and herbal vapors.  It's 39% abv, so it packs a lot of punch for such a smooth finish.

Punchline: The great thing about this stuff is that it really is a magical digestif.  It kills heartburn, upset stomach, any of the side effects of a big meal.  Wonderful stuff to drink after dinner if you have a touch of toddler-induced heartburn, or you just want to recover from overindulgence and still be able to go out and party afterwards.  There are some recommendations for cocktails, but I'd just skip all that and take it neat, perhaps with a little chaser of Pellegrino and lime if you wish.  

A life-saver with a little buzz to boot. Grazie molto, Fernet!!!  


  1. this is the funniest thing i have ever read. i still don't get why she couldn't just climb on the dinosaurs for a little - what does she weigh, 30 lbs? that guy should lighten up a little.

    1. haha seriously! maybe dino-junglegyms could be our new invention...

  2. Awesome post, Steve! I nearly crapped, myself, reading it. I so relate. I relate to your observations about Fernet Branca too. Like pure high octane essence of Ricola as a shot. Absolutely medicinal. But what a palate ender!

  3. I agree that this is a very funny post. Have you read Your 2 Year Old by Louise Bates Ames? It helps understand the proverbial NO! I recommend the whole series.

    1. Hi Sauci! Have not read it, but we'll have to check it out... Hope you're doing well!