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Fernet Is the Italian Liqueur Missing From Your Bar Cart

Images Coutesy of Fernet Branca

At the far side of a dimly lit bar, two bartenders share shots of an unknown brown liquid. They’re drinking fernet—most likely Fernet-Branca—and taking part in a well-known industry ritual often referred to as “the bartenders’ handshake.”

This bitter Italian herbal spirit can be found on the shelf of almost any rickety watering hole or high-end cocktail palace. From Milan and Argentina to San Francisco, Fernet-Branca has earned its place in the mixologist lexicon and built a culture all its own.

Here’s everything you need to know about Fernet-Branca.

What Is Fernet?

When people talk about fernet, nine times out of ten, they’re talking about Fernet-Branca. Like Kleenex or Q-tips, the brand has become synonymous with the category. There are several brands currently producing the liqueur but, “Fernet-Branca is the original,” says Erin Campbell, regional portfolio manager for Fratelli Branca Distillerie, Fernet-Branca’s parent company.

The drink “is an ill-defined style of Italian bitter digestive,” says The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails. “Although widely considered to belong to the amaro family, some argue it forms a category of its own.”