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FERNET: BOLD, BITTER, AND BEAUTIFUL

Why the spirit your bartender loves is a gateway to a new world of flavor.

WRITTEN BY MICHAEL MOBERLY
PHOTO OF MICHAEL MOBERLY BY CANDICE VIVIEN

Fernet Cannella

"It tastes like medicine for an ailment you never knew you had," says Chris Costa, owner of Reno Public House in Reno.

"A really herbal root beer that has had all the flavors turned to 11. With alcohol," says Ty Martin, owner of Craft Wine & Beer in Reno.

"I've always described it as tasting like dirt and gold," says Ilona Smith-Martinez, property mixologist at Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno. "It has an unforgettable taste but also does something unforgettable to your body."

Love it or hate it, fernet creates a reaction. Fernet is a style of amaro, an Italian aromatic bitter liqueur that for many is a gateway to the ever-expanding world of bitters. Throughout history, bitters have been used to increase wellness and as a tonic to the ailments that go along with a lifestyle of imbibing. The definition of fernet is somewhat loose, but common factors that separate it from the larger world of amari include higher alcohol content, an inky black color, a highly bitter flavor, and the iconic list of herbs included in its ingredients. This powerful spirit is commonly known as a bartender handshake, as its extraordinary flavor has been known to separate the weak from the strong.

It's fair to say you have seen or heard of fernet before, but more than likely you've only ever had one brand: Fernet-Branca. The Branca brand wasn't even the first fernet on the market; Fernet Vittone had that honor with its first trademark in 1842. As bartending culture has expanded, so has the allure of the world of fernet. New brands imported from Italy or made here in the States have been popping up on back bars all over Reno-Tahoe.

The most exciting of these new brands is from recent Reno transplant Joe Cannella and his product line, Cannella Spirits. Released in late 2017, Fernet Cannella is a bolder and drier fernet that is inspired by Cannella's own extensive travel in Sicily.

"Our family name is Cannella, the Italian word for cinnamon," he explains. "But the origins of the name related to the ancient spice trade. To be a cannella was to be a spice merchant."

Cannella won't stop there; he has a new blend of fernet in the works made exclusively for Northern Nevada. One dollar from every bottle sale will go to Reno's The Holland Project, and artists with the collaborative will design the new label. The yet-to-be-named Reno fernet from Cannella Spirits will be available in spring-summer 2018.

Michael Moberly is the spirits program director for Whispering Vine Wine Co. and a local spirits educator. His 10 years in the industry have been spent learning, loving, and imbibing with some of the best minds in the industry, both locally and nationally. He also is good at wearing hats.

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Resources

Want to learn more about amaro? Check out Brad Thomas Parsons' book, Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas.

Want to drink more amaro? Ask your bartender to name his or her favorite bitter and buy a shot!

The full Cannella Spirits line is available at the Whispering Vine Wine Co. location on Mayberry Drive in Reno.

RECIPE

Hanky Panky

(courtesy of Michael Moberly, spirits program director, Whispering Vine Wine Co. in Reno. Serves 1)

Created by the godmother of bartending, Ada "Coley" Coleman, the Hanky Panky is a perfect Fernet cocktail to make at home.

1½ ounces gin
1½ ounces sweet vermouth
2 dashes fernet (or ¾ ounce for a drier cocktail)

Pour ingredients over ice, stir, strain into cocktail glass, and garnish with a bit of orange zest.

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