Tips & Techniques

How to Use Fernet in a Cocktail

January  8, 2015

When he's not busy running the cocktail program at New York City's Marta, Erik Lombardo is giving us the rundown on all things spirits -- and showing us the best ways to drink them.

Today: A cocktail with an unlikely cast of characters to settle your stomach after a big meal.

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Ginger syrup is one of my favorite cocktail secret weapons. A dark and stormy made with fresh ginger syrup is enough to restore your faith that you’ll one day own 30-foot sailboat (just me?) and all it takes is a squeeze of lime and soda water to make some of the best ginger beer you’ve ever had.

And assuming you have a juicer (before you balk, I got mine at a thrift store), it’s almost criminally easy to make: Juice ginger and combine equal parts ginger juice and sugar. Shake until all sugar is dissolved, and store in the refrigerator up to a week. But it’s strong -- like Arnold in Pumping Iron strong -- and can be a little tough to integrate into cocktails well. Like Arnold, you need the introduction of other strong personalities in order to make everything work. Enter Carpano Antica, Fernet Branca, and the Virago.

Despite the pejorative use of the word now, the original use of virago was to denote a woman who possessed drive, ambition, and a warrior-like spirit, characteristics at the time normally attributed to males. Which is why the name is fitting for the cocktail: It uses two ingredients that ride the sublime line between bold and beautiful. 

Carpano Antica Formula is a vermouth that can trace its ancestry back to the 18th century; many claim it’s the original Italian sweet vermouth. Claims aside, it is easily one of the best, boldest, and most nuanced versions, all without being weighty. Fernet Branca is another tempest of flavor, an amaro with spice and smoke to spare, herbal with focused flavors of mint, camphor, and eucalyptus.  

The lime juice serves merely to brighten the cocktail, and the soda water provides room for the Carpano and Fernet to fully explore their own depth. The use of amaro and vermouth as a base means you won’t be falling down after just one, so this is a perfect cocktail for after you’ve over-indulged and are looking to rebound into a long night, though feel free to enjoy one before dinner as an apertif. Unapologetic, brazen, captivating and absolutely delicious -- you’d do well to make one tonight.


Serves 1

1 ounce Fernet Branca
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce ginger syrup  

See the full recipe (and save it and print it) here.

Photos by Mark Weinberg

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • ambradambra
  • Kenzi Wilbur
    Kenzi Wilbur
Erik Lombardo

Written by: Erik Lombardo


ambradambra January 11, 2015
Fabulous. Let's start using more of these great Italian digestives. I've just re-discovered the apertif 'Rosso Antico'. Wrote about it on my blog 'The Good the Bad & the Italian'. Cheers
Kenzi W. January 13, 2015
Amen! I'm with you on that.