Fernet Branca and Branca Menta
by Kevin R. Kosar

One of the interesting things I learned in graduate school was the power of language to affect our ability to comprehend what the senses are taking in.  While language does not utterly override reality- a pie in the face is a pie in the face no matter how you care to describe it- it does act as a filter or fun house mirror, warping what you see, taste, smell, etc.

Take, for example, the word sweet.  If I was to offer you something sweet, or if you heard that somebody was a sweet person, how would you feel?  Contrast that with the word bitter.  If I say, "He's a bitter man," would you be eager to meet this fellow?  If I tell you that "This meat tastes bitter," are you likely to dash out and buy five pounds?  Probably not.

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In America, sweet is good and bitter is bad.  Why this is so, is not clear, though I venture to say it has something to do with our diets.  Americans consume an enormous amount of sugar, more, perhaps, than any other people on earth.  Living in New York City, I meet a good number of persons from foreign nations.  When I bring up the subject, they all agree- American food tends to be sickly sweet.  (As an aside, maybe this habit of wolfing down outrageous amounts of white sugar has something to do with the high rates of obesity and diabetes, particularly in children).  In short- our palates have been contracted such that we seem to only enjoy that which is saccharin.  And this is a shame.

Which brings us to Fernet Branca and Branca Menta.  These are bitter Italian liqueurs, throwbacks to the late 19th century.  As you've likely heard, Coca-Cola, which was created in the 1870s, was initially conceived as a health tonic.  It was supposed to cure nervousness, sick stomach, body aches, melancholy, and a host of other ills.  To this day, the Coca-Cola formula is a guarded secret, consisting of an assortment of herbs from foreign lands (though it's been almost 100 years since they took the cocaine out of it).

In this way, Fernet Branca is similar.  It is a liqueur that consists of alcohol and some 40 herbs, including the currently popular St. John's wort.  Branca has long been recommended as hangover cure and I myself can tell you that it works.  Branca straight up is intensely bitter and quite medicinal and herbal.  I recommend that you drop a shot of it into 8 ounces of any cola, add ice, and drink up.  You'll feel terrific in short order.  Sure, Fernet Branca is 80 proof, so you are getting a belt of alcohol, but the high is much different from any other alcohol I've tasted. Fernet Branca gives you the sense that life is great (which it is) and that you are robust and healthy- so healthy that you might feel like you would like to go for a twenty mile jog or perhaps rearrange your furniture- alone.  Fernet Branca is terrific, a classic that no bar should be without, and I highly endorse it as both a hangover cure and a drink to sip after a hard day at work or when you are out on the town.  (Rating ****1/2)

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Branca Menta is the mint version of Fernet Branca.  It's too 40% alcohol and has a very firm herbal, bitterness, but it is supplemented by an intense mint scent.  Like Fernet Branca, you can drink it mixed with cola.  Or, you can serve it straight on ice.  Once it is chilled and slightly watered down, you can either sip it or knock it back in one shot.  Either way, it has an icy, crisp taste that is quite refreshing and will also give you a bit of that magic Branca high.  (Rating ****)

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