Intense bitterness? Doesn’t faze me. Coffee? I’ll take it black, please. 100 IBU double IPA? Sign me up. Shot of Malört? Gladly. It’s no wonder then that I’m also a fan of fernet, the bitter Italian amaro, also known as the “bartender’s handshake.”
The best known brand over here is Fernet-Branca. It’s so well known that most people just think of it as the entire category. The recipe is a secret blend of 27 herbs and other ingredients, known only to the company’s president. The result is a complex spirit with an intensely bitter taste. If ever a spirit was meant to inspire a Forbidden Root beer, Fernet-Branca is it.
That’s why it was no surprise when the Chicago-based botanical-centered brewery announced Fernetic, a collaboration with Fernet-Branca. The resulting imperial black ale was flavored with 20 botanicals to invoke the amaro and it pulls the feat off spectacularly.
I don’t drink Fernet-Branca often, but Fernetic tastes exactly as I remember the spirit. An intense melange of botanicals, from rhubarb to mint to anise add bitterness and a touch of sweetness. Roasted malt forms a solid backbone that reminds you this is still a beer. Taking down a bomber by yourself is a feat and is best shared with others, but the stark difference in ABV (8.4% for the beer versus 39% for the spirit) means you can enjoy the Fernet flavor much longer in this form.
This is certainly not a beer for everyone, but those that appreciate Fernet will definitely be rewarded.