Monday, August 19, 2013

Fernet My Heart in San Francisco

This summer, I saw Alie Ward on stage at the Upright Citizens Brigade, doing monologues for ASSSSCAT.  She was funny and charming and mentioned she had a travel show on TV, so I later made the highly unusual (for me) decision to venture outside my carefully curated DVR slate and watch an episode of Tripping Out with Alie and Georgia on the Cooking Channel.  The format of the show is simple and fun: in each episode, titular BFFs Ward and Georgia Hardstark eat and drink their way through a different city; and then, when they get home, they host a party for their friends with food and beverages inspired by their travels.  Two great things that set the series apart for me: (1) the two women legitimately seem to enjoy -- and feel lucky for -- the opportunity to traipse around the country on the network's dime; and (2) there's a lot of drinking.

In the San Francisco episode I watched, we learn that Fernet Branca is a favorite liqueur in the Bay Area, especially when consumed with a side of ginger beer.  Alie and Georgia applied this tradition in inventing a new cocktail, Fernet My Heart In San Francisco, and it looked so good I had to pause the show to mix one up myself.  I was not disappointed with the results.  This is a fantastic summer cocktail, spicy and refreshing and complex enough to make you feel smart for making it (and even smarter if you can get someone to make it for you).

Photo by Nick Rheinwald-Jones


Recipe (by Alie and Georgia, reprinted from

1.5 ounces bourbon
0.75 ounces lime juice
0.5 ounces Fernet Branca
0.25 ounces Chinese five-spice simple syrup:
    - 1 cup sugar
    - 1 cup water
    - 1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice
Ginger beer
Mint sprigs, for garnish

For the Chinese five-spice simple syrup: Combine 1 cup water, the sugar and the five-spice powder in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Let cool.

For the cocktail: Put the bourbon, lime juice, Fernet and 1/4 ounce of the Chinese five-spice simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a Collins or highball glass filled with ice. Top with the ginger beer and garnish with a few sprigs of mint. Wax nostalgic about the Bay.


Some notes:
  • Since there's a relatively small amount of bourbon (1.5 ounces = 1 shot), it's a good occasion to use a high-proof variety like Booker's. 
  • Fernet is a very minty herbal liqueur, sometimes consumed as a digestif or after-dinner drink.  If you've ever tried it on its own, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for liquid toothpaste.  As such, it can overpower a lot of other cocktails, but in this one it blends perfectly into the surroundings (like an old-fashioned butler) (or a ninja) (or a ninja butler) (excuse me, I just got an idea for Jackie Chan's next movie),
  • As for the ginger beer, the spicier the better -- I'd go with Reed's Extra Ginger Brew or Maine Root, since Fever Tree is a little too subtle for this drink.  Ginger ale is definitely not a suitable stand-in here; take it from someone who was stupid enough to try it once.
  • If you've never made a flavored syrup before (or even plain old simple syrup), this is a great time to try. You can store it in a jar or one of those flip-top bottles if you want to get fancy, and it'll last for months. Make a batch of un-spiced syrup while you're at it, because simple syrup is one of the most important cocktail staples there is (and you can use it to sweeten iced tea or coffee, too).
  • Chinese five-spice is a combination of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinammon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds.  You might be able to find it in the spice section of Whole Foods (like I did) or an Asian market, but don't fret if you're unable (or unwilling) to locate a supply.  The first time I made this drink I just used added some cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and red pepper flakes to the shaker along with the rest of the ingredients and plain simple syrup, and it still came out great.  (Possibly even better because I definitely over-spiced it that time.)

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