The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2015

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october 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  77 here's a tradition in today's mixology community known as the "bartender's handshake." Whether reuniting or just meeting for the first time, get- ting the night started or celebrating last call, when two bartenders get together they'll share a round of shots. But not just any shot signifies mutual approval: If you're a member of the club, you're drinking Fernet-Branca. At first glance, Fernet-Branca may appear a peculiar choice. A person's first sips often attract polarizing reactions. Mixologist Michael Cadden of Seattle's Tavern Law admits the beverage introduces itself as an incred- ibly alienating experience. He says, "Other bartenders who train you will give it to you and shock you with it. As Americans, we don't grow up with it in our house- holds." Others, like Robbie Gregg of Santa Monica's Estate Restaurant + Bar, initially question whether or not they even like it. Robbie recounts, "The first time I had it, I wasn't so crazy about it. But my bartender buddy, Andrew Smith, who gave it to me, was so excited about it that I had to go home and buy a bottle of it anyway." And for a select few, it's love at first sight. Maeve Pesquera, National Director of Wine and Beverage at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse, admits, "Fernet is an inter- esting one; it's a puzzler. Once you meet it, it's something you fall in love with." Despite the immediate shock value, Fernet-Branca's intrigue ultimately lures bartenders back in. Today, Fernet-Branca plays a prominent role within both Cadden's and Gregg's beverage programs. Fernet-Branca falls under the broader umbrella of herbal liqueurs known as amari, Italian for "bitters." Fernet-Branca falls into an exceptionally sharp amaro sub-group, of which Milan-based Fernet-Branca is the most recognizable producer. "It's to the stage where it's a 'Band-Aid brand,'" Cadden says, likening Fernet-Branca to the famed bandage company that's come to represent the entire category with its brand name. PHOTO: DUSTIN DOWNING Michael Cadden, mixologist at Seattle's Tavern Law, with his cocktail, the Pomace Digestif. PHOTO: JOANN ARRUDA

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