Often regarded as the "bartender's handshake", a shot of Fernet-Branca has become a modern fixture for bartenders visiting one another at their respective craft cocktail establishments. It is as much a nod from one professional to another as it is confirmation that, as a fellow enthusiast of the craft, your tastes have evolved to the point that an intensely herbal, bitter Italian aperitivo is a perfectly acceptable refreshment that doesn't require extra time mixing up a signature recipe.
Regular patrons can also sometimes upgrade their "bar table image" and gain immediate street credit by ordering Fernet, (or if it's not too busy, requesting a bartender's choice cocktail made with the stuff). Calling out Fernet-Branca is still unusual enough—even in better bars—that it might earn you a smile or a double-take from the bartender and occasionally leads to conversations about ingredients or recipe construction. But, sipping Fernet neat is just too intense for most folks, and the idea of taking your time with a strong amaro seems foreign to many of us.
On a recent visit to Victoria Bar in North Portland, we were happily introduced to the Ferrari, a petite sipper made using equal parts of Fernet-Branca and Campari (get it? Ferrari?). To top it off, you garnish it with a pinch of sea salt.
.75 oz Fernet-Branca
.75 oz Campari
Carefully measure equal parts of each amaro and combine in a small cocktail glass. Garnish with a pinch of sea salt.
It's more of a shot than a cocktail, but we think it's worth taking your time drinking it. Consider the fact that taken separately, Fernet is intense—but so is Campari! Yet combined, somehow these herbal liqueurs bring out the best in each other. Campari's orange citrus flavors help calm the mint and menthol in the Fernet while the salt helps to reduce the bitter effects so you are left with a pleasantly complex drink that works just as well as a dessert as it does as the perfect aperitivo before a big meal. It's so simple to make that you don't really need to measure if you are careful, and it doesn't require any ice, dilution or bar tools.
It turns out that this is just one of many 50:50 amaro recipes out there, and we aim to try more of them. Several pair Italian liqueur with spirits and many have even become interesting ingredients in their own right—perfect for tinkering.