Reports show that Fernet Branca is the most popular drink in San Francisco and that Outside of Argentina San Francisco consumes the most per capita in the world. Rumor has it that perennial favorite R Bar (1176 Sutter St) sells more Fernet then any other place on the planet. True or not, this is the drink that lubricates the SF bar scene, but what is it and why? More importantly - where can you get it for cheap? Set up an Italian car chase for yourself and get ready for the Metrowize guide to Fernet.
To be honest with you, this is a bartenders drink. It's dark, disgusting, vile, evil and unabashedly brilliant. It s possibly the worst thing you can ever drink and possibly why we bartenders drink it. We have a choice of anything at the bar and time after time we go for the Fernet. The point being is that we've trained ourselves, with grimaces and pride to like this black sludge. To pass it on to our friends and hapless passer byes - and give them a glimpse into the secret world behind the bar. If anything Fernet is more then a drink, its a nod, a handshake, a coded message that lets the pourer and imbiber know of a special club that not everyone can enter. A challenge that not all can face, but yea to those who walk in the valley of the shadow of death.
To the uninitiated a shot of fernet is followed quickly by an even bigger shot of ginger ale. To the disciples of this foreboding and arcane alcohol ginger ale is a misdirection on the true path to enlightenment.
Fernet isn't just all doom and gloom - it actually serves a purpose. As a digestive it'll set'll your stomach - as a bar tool it'll give you an extra burst of energy thats more intense then a double espresso.
The easiest way to explain the taste is to imagine Jagermeister without the sugar. You shoot it, immediately getting a strong hit of mouthwash - drying the mouth out, stinging the tongue. Its kind of like getting hit in the nose. Your brain hurts, your eyes sting and water, you cough a bit. Then, as soon as it begins a warm wave of relief washes over and you are left baptized in Italian herbals and golf ball eyed awake.
It's about $21-30 per bottle depending on where you shop and generally around $6 per shot at bars and clubs. The following 2 bars offer great (or extremely devious) pricing on Fernet whereas the last bar on this list is going to be damned straight to hell for its consistent low barrel prices.
For a list of bars in SF where you can get your fernet fix, check out part 2.
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