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Although categorized under Italian Amari (Bitters), Fernet is its own bitter category and is most often listed under Elixir/Elisir in Italian liquor manuals when not simply called "Fernet." The extremely bitter (amarissimo is an apt description) concoction has conflicting data as to its origins. A recent Tempus Fugit discovery of an original Italian invoice and recipe attributed Fernet to a monk named Frate Angelico Fernet, who may have been responsible for the origin of many herbal tonics and elixirs. Fernet is a historical French Burgundy surname — pronounced "Fair-Nay" and underwent many spelling transformations. It was most likely created to counteract the effects of cholera and malaria, but went on to be used for everything from a laxative to a hangover cure. Today there are still several Italian Fernet producers (with the largest making so much of the world's production that some actually believe Fernet is a brand name), but most is made in tiny quantities for local rural Italian consumption. The various known recipes most typically share ingredients such as aloe, saffron, quinquina, gentian, anise, angelica, mint and myrhh. This latter ingredient (along with saffron) seems to define and create the backbone of the best Fernet. 44% ABV
Deep colored, almost black, with golden reflections from the expensive addition of fine saffron, there is no additional coloring added. The saffron aromas mix with lightly mentholated and medicinal notes. The bitterness is immediately detected on the first sip, but evolves with light mint, menthol flavors that are surprisingly balanced and a subtle sweetness carries the finish on for a long while, as the bitterness becomes surprisingly engaging. This amazing liqueur can be sipped on its own, but shines in skillfully-made cocktails, especially the Employees Only and the Toronto. Tempting to take straight as a shot, if one stops to savor it, Fernet del Frate will instantly become the go-to sipper for the first and the last drink of the night.