A shot of Fernet-Branca is the unofficial “bartender’s handshake,” a liquid greeting to a fellow industry worker. If you’ve mastered the handshake, try another embrace: the Ferrari, an equal-parts combination of Fernet-Branca and another beloved Italian amaro, Campari.
An amaro is a bittersweet herbal liqueur made by infusing an alcoholic base (such as a grape brandy, neutral spirit, or wine) with ingredients such as herbs, roots, spices, and flowers, then sweetening the concoction. Amari (the plural of amaro) can be produced anywhere, but they’re a staple of the culture in Italy, where they’re often served as pre-meal aperitifs or after-dinner digestifs.
Campari and Fernet-Branca are two amari with storied histories and devoted fans. Campari dates to 1860, when Gaspare Campari invented the liqueur outside of Milan. Like most amari, its recipe is a closely held secret, but many drinkers speculate its prominent bitter flavor comes from chinotto oranges. The amaro is the backbone of many popular cocktails, including the Negroni and the Americano, and has lent its bitter citrus notes and bright-red hue to countless modern classics over the years, such as the Tiki-inspired Jungle Bird.
Fernet-Branca, meanwhile, is part of a larger category of fernet amari that are typically characterized by medicinal-tasting and herbaceous flavors. Known for its strong licorice and mint notes, Fernet-Branca was invented by Bernandino Branca in Milan in 1845; as with Campari, its recipe is a secret, but some of its known components include myrrh, saffron, chamomile, and gentian. The stateside Fernet obsession is thought to have started in San Francisco, where the amaro really caught on in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In addition to its status as the “bartender’s handshake,” Fernet-Branca has been immortalized in the form of many industry-worker tattoos.
Because of its strong flavor, Fernet is often used more judiciously in cocktails than other amari; it’s included as a supporting ingredient in the Toronto and Hanky Panky. Fernet is also sipped on ice, sometimes with Coca-Cola. (It’s particularly popular in Argentina, where Fernet con Coca is the national cocktail).
As its name implies, the Ferrari is typically consumed quickly, as a shot, but you can also turn it into a cocktail to appreciate the complexity of the two beloved amari. Just increase the amounts of Campari and Fernet-Branca to one and a half ounces each (or whatever quantity you prefer, keeping the 1:1 ratio); stir both with ice in a mixing glass and strain into a coupe glass. The resulting shot or cocktail will be relatively high-octane: Fernet-Branca has an ABV of 39%, nearly that of a typical spirit, while Campari has an ABV of 24%.
Whichever way you drink it, you just might find a new favorite handshake.
3/4 ounce Campari
3/4 ounce Fernet-Branca
Add both ingredients into a shot glass.
Drink as a shot.