Fernet Branca: Tilt Your Head Back, Open Wide, and Say Ahhhhh

Bartender Sean McBride celebrates the bitter Italian liqueur with surprise shots around town

If you order a shot of Fernet Branca at most American bars, it signals to the bartender that you are brethren. After all, only bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts love the fiercely bitter and pungent Italian digestif. Try to serve it to the uninitiated, however, and you might get punched. (That’s OK, though, more for us.)

To get an idea of just how unifying this “bartender’s handshake” is, check out “#LAybacks” a great little video by Eugene Lee of Big Bar in Los Feliz. He produced and filmed it along with his production team Harrison and Sharon Lee, for the Carpano Antica Formula Video Awards. Their video is just one of many contenders vying for recognition and the grand prize: a Fernet Branca bike.

The two-and-a-half-minute-long ode to the L.A. cocktail community follows Big Bar bartender Sean McBride around town, popping up at landmarks like the Griffith Park Observatory, Levitated Mass at LACMA and Jumbo’s Clown Room, administering the herbaceous spirit to about 80-plus open mouths, just like a boozy Florence Nightingale. See if you can spot your favorite L.A. bartenders like Cari Hah and Aidan Demarest of Neat and Karen Grill of Playa laying back. (Even I show up at the 0:25 mark.)

Other L.A. bartenders like Seven Grand’s Timothy Stevens, The Eveleigh’s Kiowa Bryan and Drago Centro’s Jaymee Mandeville also have videos in the running. Winners will be chosen by industry judges and announced at the inaugural award show on December 10. (Wanna go? RSVP here.)

Intrigued about the flavor now that you’ve watched the video? If you’d like to try Fernet for yourself but don’t want to commit to buying a bottle, here are a few cocktails around town to ease you into the liqueur.

  • Bar & Kitchen’s California Gold Rush: Buffalo Trace, Fernet Branca, honey, lemon
  • Big Bar’s Man Facing Southeast: Fernet Branca, Carpano Antica, Oro Pisco Torontel, stirred, up, lemon peel
  • Corner Door’s Teacher’s Lounge: Rum, coconut liqueur, Fernet Branca, espresso, lemon juice, orgeat
  • The FamousVitulli: Rye, Amaro Nonino, Fernet Branca, sweet vermouth
  • Harvard & Stone’s Fernet Cocktail: Fernet Branca, King’s Ginger, Carpano Antica, lime juice, Regatta ginger beer
  • Pour Vous’ Amour Amer: Fernet Branca, lemon, St Germain, vodka