Sunday, April 4, 2010
The History of Fernet
If you haven't heard of Fernet-Branca before, don't worry about it. I only learned of this Italian wonder-drink a few years ago from my buddy Guido when I was visiting him in San Francisco.
Invented in 1845 in Milan by a guy named Bernardino Branca it was originally marketed as a cure for, among other things, menstrual cramps. In fact until 1913, only women were depicted drinking it in advertisements. It came to the United States, and more specifically San Francisco, in the suitcases of immigrants and became wildly popular during prohibition. Since it was marketed as a medicinal elixir it wasn't outlawed by the 18th amendment...essentially making it the only packaged liquor legally sold in the US during prohibition.
Somewhere along the line it became a favorite hangover cure among bartenders in SF and it slowly gained a cult-like popularity in the city. By the time I went up to see Guido during the 2006 FIFA World Cup (which Italy won by the way), Fernet-Branca was officially a mainstream drink. To that point, San Francisco drinks more of the liqueur than any other locale in the United States and more per capita than any place on Earth. Which is impressive...especially when you consider that Nate Cavalieri described his first fernet experience as being "punched squarely in the nose while sucking on a mentholated cough drop," in his 2005 SF Weekly story, The Myth of Fernet.
So now, anytime Guido and I get together, we toss back a shot of Fernet-Branca for old time sake. Believe me, we don't do it for the taste.