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Fernet (Italian pronunciation: [fɛrˈnɛt]) is a type of amaro, a bitter, aromatic spirit. Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and colored with caramel coloring.
Fernet is usually served as a digestif after a meal but may also be served with coffee and espresso or mixed into coffee and espresso drinks. It typically contains 45% alcohol by volume. It may be served at room temperature or on the rocks (with ice). A mint-flavored version of fernet is also available.
Fernet is very popular in Argentina, where the production is around 25 million liters, 35% sold in Buenos Aires province and Federal District and 30% in Córdoba province (with a population of 3 million people). It is commonly mixed with cola, but it is also drunk with soda water (in an "old fashioned way"), or even pure.
The drink has been popular in the San Francisco Bay Area since before Prohibition. In 2008, San Francisco accounted for 25% of US consumption. San Francisco bars usually serve fernet as a shot followed by a ginger ale chaser.
As one bartender-columnist described the experience of drinking fernet:
The easiest way to explain the taste is to imagine Jägermeister without the sugar. You shoot it, immediately getting a strong hit of mouthwash - drying the mouth out, stinging the tongue. Its kind of like getting hit in the nose. Your brain hurts, your eyes sting and water, you cough a bit. Then, as soon as it begins a warm wave of relief washes over and you are left baptized in Italian herbals and golf ball eyed awake.
Fernet can be mixed into cocktails, though the strong taste can overwhelm other ingredients. It can replace bitters in recipes; for instance, the Fanciulli cocktail is a Manhattan with fernet instead of Angostura bitters.
The chef Fergus Henderson offers a recipe, entitled both "A Miracle" and "Dr. Henderson" that approximates Brancamenta by combining two parts fernet with one part crème de menthe over ice. The recipe describes this cocktail as a cure for overindulgence.
Fernet Branca receives a mention in the novel Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred Pennyworth remembers himself sitting in Florence, Italy drinking a Fernet Branca.Fernet Branca (as Fernet-Branca) is mentioned in Donna Tartt's novel, The Goldfinch: "Hobie had an iron constitution; whenever he came down with anything himself, he drank a Fernet-Branca and kept going."