Saturday, 8 September 2012

Aperol & Fernet Branca

After an amazing few days in Venice, we jumped on board a train and took a trip back to Milan. As we were only there not even 2 months ago, the city was fresh in our minds. We easily were able to navigate our way around, as our plan was to show Cara’s mum and dad the famous Duomo Cathedral. The weather was again hot in Milan and we were all in need of some drinks. I noticed next to the cathedral was a small bar which specialised in serving Aperol drinks. This looked like the place to sit and relax. 

Without a doubt, Campari dominates cocktail menus in Italy. It’s the base to some of the most iconic Italian cocktails in history. But the Campari company also released another aperitif, Aperol. This product has always been in the shadow of Campari. It was first created in 1919, but did not become popular in Italy until after the second world war. With Campari being such a strong bitter flavour (which many people either loved or hated), Aperol was designed to be a lighter, softer alternative. It’s 11% alcohol rating makes it less than half the strength of Campari. Only in recent years, the Aperol name and brand has stepped out of the shadows and come into it’s own. In 2010, Aperol won the highest accolade possible by winning a double gold medal at San Fransisco’s World Spirits Competition. By far the most common Aperol drink to order is an “Aperol Spritz”. This is simply a single shot of Aperol, topped with lemonade and garished with a slice of orange, or lemon. It’s a light refreshing drink, perfect for a hot summers day in Milan. 

As I often do when we are in bars, I like to take a look at the back-bar, to see what else they have decided to stock. There is one product which I’ve noticed in all Italian bars. It is a product which is a household name in Italy, but a bit of a mystery abroad, It’s Fernet Branca. This unusual and lesser known spirit has a dark colour and a syrupy texture. Some have said it’s similar to Jagermiester. It’s flavour has been compared to a mixture of medicine, crushed plants and bitter mud. It’s exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, but what we do know, is that it’s production (both recipe and process) are still same as when it was first produced in 1845. 

Milan is the birthplace of Fernet Branca. It was created by Bernardino Branca at the Fratelli Branca Distillery. This spirit was claimed by Bernardino to have many health benefits. It could be used as a  digestive, to reduce fever, cure stomach bugs, along with being a basic warming medicine when you felt cold. It was said to be a “revolutionary liqueur”. This argument became useful during the prohibition years where Fernet Branca could claim that it was a type of medicine, which still made the sale of it legal.  

In the hot summer sun, I felt today may not have been the best time to try a Fernet Branca cocktail. I’m sure I’ll have the chance to try some again soon.  I was happy with sipping on my Aperol spritz, sitting in front of the Duomo Cathedral and enjoying the sun. 

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