Every so often, I find myself at a fancy (read “shirts and shoes required”) drinking establishment. On a few such occasions, I noticed something: Without fail, a spirit called Fernet shows up on these hip joints’ cocktail lists.

Fer-wut? Let’s find out together.

What is Fernet?
It’s a type of amaro.

That’s totally unhelpful. What’s amaro?
Amaro is an Italian herbal liqueur with bittersweet flavor. In fact, amaro means “bitter.”

How do I pronounce Fernet without sounding like a putz?
Fur-net. Don’t overthink it.

What’s it made of?
It’s a secret. At least according to Fernet-Branca, the most popular brand by far. The company does reveal that their secret formula includes 27 herbs like aloe, chamomile, peppermint and rhubarb, plus additional flowers, roots and plants.

What does it taste like?
Oh-ho-ho, now we get to the good part. Some people describe it as bitter and medicinal with hints of mint and licorice. Other people describe it as disgusting.

So why is it showing up in so many cocktails?
Because bartenders like to bring back cool old ingredients, and Fernet has been around since 1845. Because it became popular in San Francisco, and they’re trendsetters. And b because bartenders like the challenge of work ing with its unique potent flavor.

Anything else?
Oh yeah, it also cures hangovers.

Go on…
With its mysterious mix of medicinal herbs, Fernet is widely believed to cure hangovers. Italians swear by a shot of espresso and a shot of Fernet to help them face the morning after. You’ll have to test that out for yourself.

I’m sold. How do I drink it?
Here are a few ideas:

  • Fernet and Coke: The national cocktail of Argentina. You learned something today.
  • Hanky Panky: An old-school concoction of Fernet, gin and sweet vermouth.
  • Fanciulli: Like a Manhattan only bitter, and more fun to say.