Trade out absinthe with Fernet Branca’s bitter saffron notes and punch up the Sazerac with the flavors of the middle east for this Fernet Sazerac. It’s a dry, bittersweet version of a Sazerac with delightful Persian flavors that still lets the rye spice shine through.
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What’s Fernet Branca?
Categorized as an amaro, a bitter Italian digestive, Fernet Branca is a bitter, medicinal, citrusy concoction with up to 27 ingredients. Unlike flavoring through distillation like some other spirits, the makers add tinctures of the ingredients to a flavorless alcohol. Then they barrel-age the spirit for a year before bottling.
No recipe has ever been published, although it’s common knowledge that it contains flavors of rhubarb, gentian, chamomile, cardamom, saffron, bitter orange, and myrrh, among others. Five of the ingredients and their ratios are known only to the CEO. Talk about secrecy!
Fernet tastes strongly bitter, with a heavy drying saffron note. To be fair, it’s an acquired taste. Most people (including me) don’t love it, mixologists and bartenders consider it a right of passage to order up a shot on its own to share with the person behind the bar.
Some people things it tastes like mouthwash, others think it tastes earthy and woody in the extreme. As with any bitter amaro, its tastes are complex and driven by the temperature and application of the drink in a cocktail.
Originally, a medicinal tonic, and this one claimed to heal you from Cholera. It wasn’t successful, but it was rebranded to heal just about anything in the 19th century.
If you missed my article on How to Build a Perfect Sazerac, check that out for more information. The traditional Sazerac has rye whiskey, simple syrup or sugar, Peychaud bitters and a rinse of absinthe in the rocks serving glass. Served neat, in a very chilled glass, bartenders express a lemon peel over the top before serving to brighten the drink with lemon oils.
Flavors in this Fernet Sazerac
First, we swap Fernet Branca for the absinthe, coating the inside of the glass with it just before serving. The notes of saffron and woody, dry bitterness counter the sweetness from the rose-infused honey syrup.
I love the combination of saffron and cardamom in a mango lassi, so I added Scrappy’s cardamom bitters to the Peychaud’s bitters to get that strong cardamom flavor. Paired with the citrus and anise notes of the Peychaud’s bitters, it ties all the bitter notes into a neat little flavor package that adds a hint of the middle east to the cocktail.
Other Sazeracs to Try
If you love Sazeracs and the bright flavor of licorice in your cocktail, try these variations on the classic Sazerac. You may find a new favorite:
- Fennel Peppercorn Sazerac
- Classic Sazerac
- Oleo Sazerac
- Chocolate Sazerac (at the end of the bitters article)
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Recommended Bar Tools
You don’t need every slick, beautiful bar tool out there, but there are several I’ll recommend. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. However, that does not affect the cost of the items below.) My favorite pieces:
You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
- 1.75 oz rye whiskey
- 0.5 ginger liqueur
- 0.25 oz honey rose simple syrup
- 8 drops Scrappy’s bitters cardamom
- 4 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- barspoon Fernet Branca – rinse for the glass
- Garnish: ginger powder and sesame seeds on the rim – or candied ginger
- Chill a rocks glass and rinse with Fernet Branca. Rim with sesame seeds. Add rye whiskey, ginger liqueur, syrup, and bitters to a mixing glass and add ice. Stir until well-chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into the rinsed, but chilled glass. Sip and enjoy.
Add 1/2 cup warm rose petal tea to 1/2 cup of honey. Stir to combine. Store in a clean jar in the fridge.