|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,
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.
|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 ****)
Copyright © 1997-Present Kevin R. Kosar