2021 Let’s Get Blitzen: Cocktail Advent Calendar – Day 14 – Fernet Festivus. This Fernet Festivus is a seasonal twist on the classic Toronto cocktail that highlights the intense herbal character of the one, the only, Fernet-Branca. This spirited sipper would be equally delicious enjoyed before or after dinner.
The Toronto Cocktail has been around for at least a century and is typically comprised of 2 ounces Canadian rye, 1/4 ounce Fernet-Branca, 1/4 oz simple syrup, a couple dashes of Angostura, served with an orange twist. It was first recorded as the “Fernet Cocktail” in Robert Vermeire’s 1922 edition of Cocktails: How to Mix Them, in which he wrote that the “cocktail is much appreciated by the Canadians of Toronto”.
This post is sponsored by Fernet-Branca.
Except that doesn’t exactly track because access to Italian-made Fernet-Branca would have been pretty hard to come by during Prohibition that began in 1921. Like many cocktail histories, there’s a lot up for debate when it comes to the accuracy – it *could* be possible that Vermeire was describing Torontonians love of the cocktail when they visited his bar in London, England or their tastes before prohibition.
There’s open debate amongst mixologists and bartenders as to whether a Toronto cocktail is an Old Fashioned or Manhattan style cocktail – either way it’s a deliciously bitter spirited sipper.
Within the hospitality industry, you’ll often find bartenders drinking Fernet-Branca straight. A shot of Fernet for a visiting friend and fellow bartender, is a kind of ritualized greeting – an exclusive handshake for those who work behind the wood. While I won’t stop you if you decide to down it in a single gulp, but Fernet-Branca is best enjoyed if you take the time to move past the initial bitterness and explore the complexity of the underlying flavours.
The brand has composed a helpful tasting guide that will help you explore the depths of Fernet in three sips.
The Fernet-Branca recipe is a special journey through the 27 herbs, roots and spices that make up its secret and unique special formula. Every single herb is a distinct universe, experience and discovery. Like any good secret, the folks at Fernet-Branca are prepared to give you all the details but some of the 27 include mint, ginger, rhubarb, saffron and chamomile.
In this riff on the Toronto cocktail, I’ve amped up the amount of Fernet-Branca to let its herbal complexity shine, and added a touch of sweetener in the form of gingerbread syrup to even out the increased bitterness. With the dry, spicy and cereal notes you’ll find in a Canadian rye, the finished product is a dry, herbal, and subtly spicy concoction.
While I certainly hope I’ve helped you work up a thirst for the Fernet Festivus, I’m sure some of you are wondering how I took these photos. These are not composite images that I’ve created in PhotoShop, I really had a bottle of Fernet-Branca perched on one foot and a delicate Nick and Nora glass filled with the Fernet Festivus on the other. In order to capture these images, I laid down on my back and kicked my feet up – stylishly layering a pair of Lululemon shorts and a cotton t-shirt over my Wolford hosiery and Jimmy Choo pumps.
I set up a large octagonal softbox with an off-camera flash just a foot or two away from me – slightly to the right. My friend Finn helped to centre me in the frame, place the glass and bottle on my feet, and fire the remote shutter. It was a team effort and miraculously no glasses or bottles were broken, nor any drinks spilled.
The creative concept was inspired by a series of drinks on shoes photos from Jordan of @highproofpreacher – a constant source of photographic inspiration.
I hope you’ll tune into my Instagram Stories tonight at 5 pm Eastern for a guided tutorial on how to make this drink (but not how to style the photos 😉 ).
This Fernet Festivus is a seasonal twist on the classic Toronto cocktail that highlights the intense herbal character of the one, the only, Fernet-Branca. This spirited sipper would be equally delicious enjoyed before or after dinner.
- 1¾ oz rye
- ½ oz Fernet-Branca
- ½ oz gingerbread syrup
- 2 dashes angostura bitters
- Garnish: orange twist
- 1 cup demerara sugar
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbsp molasses
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger thinly sliced
- 1 tsp whole allspice berries
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir over ice until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled Nick and Nora glass.
Express citrus oils from orange peel onto the surface of the drink. Fashion into a twist and place on the lip of the glass.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine all ingredients listed. Bring to a boil, stirring to make sure the ingredients blend together.
Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for about 20 minutes until syrup is slightly thickened.
Cool to room temperature.
Carefully strain the whole ingredients out of the syrup. Once cool enough to handle, store the gingerbread syrup in a swing top bottle or mason jar and keep in the fridge. Syrup will keep for at least a month.
Trudy Lynn Matthews