Count Niccolò Branca visited New York City recently, and we attended a luncheon wherein he told us a little bit about the history of Fernet Branca. Not only is this extremely bitter fernet popular in Italy, as one would assume, it is huge in Argentina, where folks like to take it with Coca-Cola. (Perhaps you can come up with a new highball using these two ingredients.) Steve was inspired by the Count, and the drink that was served, so he decided to come up with his own cocktail. We liked it so much we decided it would be a great contender for the Monteleone Cocktail contest sponsored by the Monteleone Hotel. (Today is the deadline, so read here for where to send your entry if you happen to be staying at the Hotel Monteleone during tales of the cocktail this July.)
1 1/2 ounces cognac
1 ounce Carpano Antica vermouth
1/2 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/8 teaspoon Fernet Branca
lemon twist, as garnish
Shake in ice for 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled glass. Add twist.
One of our favorite amari is Nonino. Why? Well, according to our taste buds, we find that its perfectly balanced blend of sweet–sour–bitter, and gentle orange notes, needs no mixing (even though we like to mix it now and again in a Brooklyn Nonino). As the old ad rationalizes, “It costs a little more, but it’s worth it.”
Another favorite digestif of Paul’s is Unicum. Not so much for mixing, but with soda. A few splashes, on the rocks, with a lot of soda (lemon twist, if you prefer), and you’ve got a refreshing tummy-soother. Unicum is very similar to Fernet Branca, but not as dry. If anyone has a cocktail that uses Unicum, please share it.
Why do some people like bitter more than others? Just ask Darcy O’Neill, from Art of Drink. Last year at Tales of the Cocktail, he explained to us in the session titled “Sensory Perception in Mixology/What your taste buds are telling you,” that most of us are Tasters. That is, we have a a certain number of receptors on our tongue (papillae) that tell us if the food we are eating is bitter (our ancestors equated bitter food with poison). There are also nontasters who have fewer taste buds, so they don’t have as strong an aversion to bitter foods. Those dubbed supertasters have the greatest number of bitter taste-bud receptors, and usually hate bitter foods and drinks. These peeps are labeled “picky” or “fussy.” Though, there is hope for the supertaster: If you can’t find balance, try training your taste buds to accept bitterness one drop at a time. Start with some Nonino, then work yourself up to, say, Campari, and then, for the ultimate challenge, a few drops of Fernet Branca or Unicum. If you can handle the fernets, then we think you’ve trained yourself pretty well. Congratulations.
Monteleone Cocktail photo © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz