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As we head into the holiday cocktail season there are certain flavors that you can expect to find in the rotation. Mint is among the most natural, thanks to the heavier nature of mint liqueurs and the quick bite of coolness provided by any flavorings that are worth a damn. However, among the greatest tragedies of the modern cocktail world is most mint flavored things are like Kool cigarettes – enticingly affordable but sure to permanently taint your mouth.
We were approached a few weeks ago to take a test ride with Fernet Branca Menta – Fernet Branca’s mint-flavored brother.
Before we get into the flavors of this, put on your mortar boards because we’re about to take your asses to school.
Fernet Branca is one of the most popular and well-known Italian amaro (or bitters) in the United States. An Italian amaro usually rocks a laundry list of spices and herbs that give them an almost overpowering bitter flavor. While the exact proportion of the Fernet Branca herbs is known only by the company’s custodian – Niccoló Branca – they’re up front about some of the ingredients:
Brancamenta, on the other hand, takes the traditional base of Fernet and adds spearmint oil to give it it’s distinctly sweet mint flavor, while still retaining the strikingly unique bitterness of the Fernet Branca. It’s also a damn site sweeter than the original Fernet Branca, pumping up the sweetness factor at least 10-fold over the famous amaro.
Geoff Kleinman says in his excellent drinkspirits.com review that the inspiration for Branca Menta came in the 1960s courtesy of opera singer Maria Callas who was known to enjoy Fernet Branca with mint syrup before she performed. This mixing of sweet mint syrup made the Fernet more approachable, leading many to serve this mix in a type of frappe.
Enough history. How does this actually taste?
Nose: There’s a powerfully strong smell of mint (of course), but you can even get a bit of the traditional bitter on the end of the whiff. Pretty strong sugary smell as well.
Neat: Surprisingly pleasant mint flavor. It’s not nearly as sweet as you’d think, and the bitterness from the Fernet base prevents it from being like drinking straight syrup.
On the Rocks: The Branca Menta gains a heavier, more syrup-like flavor. The bitter orange is much more noticeable the colder it gets, giving a different character.
Stick around the next couple weeks as we play around with this unique bit of mint.