Friday Happy Hour: Chartreuse-Fernet

I am having a hard time imagining the origins of this drink. I think it would have to have gone something like this:

“Hey, what do bartenders like to drink? Chartreuse and Fernet? Okay then, pour both of those into a glass and add vermouth and bitters for good measure!”

Eventually everyone in the industry, bartenders and voracious cocktail drinkers of Hemingway-esque proportions alike, will find themselves in a rut. It’s at times like this that you find yourself doing strange and frightening things, like ordering vodka on the rocks, when what you really need is to go back to your roots and rediscover what you’re passionate about. There aren’t many things that will excite jaded bartenders, but Green Chartreuse and Fernet Branca are near the top of that list.

Look at respected institutions like Range on Wisconsin Avenue and Canon in Seattle, winner of Tales of the Cocktail World’s Best Drink Selection, and veteran haunts like Bar Pilar on 14th Street NW. Range and Canon have Green Chartreuse on tap and Bar Pilar has a Fernet Branca tap. Why on tap? Because why the heck not? They enjoy enough of it, they might as well reserve a tap line for ye olde “Bartender’s Handshake.” But this is not just a drink for bartenders. Somewhere between the equal parts of Green Chartreuse, Fernet Branca, Martini and Rosso sweet vermouth, and a few spirited dashes of aromatic bitters, everyone comes together and mellows each other out.

On the menu at Firefly on New Hampshire Ave NW, the flavor text reads “for the lion-hearted drinker,” but this drink is a big pussy cat. Don’t get me wrong, when I had the chance to get an early look at the new cocktail menu, this drink jumped right out at me and screamed “bartender porn.” If I want to get someone started on Chartreuse and Fernet, this is exactly what I would give them. The flavor of each individual ingredient comes through, even the vermouth, nothing too powerful, the bitters smooth the creases and give the drink a great nose. At first sip you immediately taste the 130 herbs and flowers in the Chartreuse and get the big, bold punch of saffron from the Fernet. Those aromatic flavors quickly fade into the rich, fruity quality of the vermouth that gently leads in the lasting, subtle bitterness of the Fernet (that’s right, subtle, a word that heretofore has never been used in the same sentence as Fernet). It lingers for what feels like hours. It’s so good, but it’s so damned simple that it wouldn’t feel out of place on the menu in the darkest, dingiest dive or the American Bar at the Savoy; this drink’s got range. Jon Harris, formerly of the venerable Gibson, is at it again, mixing up some potent potions.

Lastly, a quick note about Green Chartreuse and Fernet Branca. According to the Associated Press, Hunter S. Thompson consumed Green Chartreuse twice a day and attributed it to his longevity. Fratelli Branca, the producer of Fernet Branca, is allegedly the largest importer of saffron, consuming an estimated 75% of the global saffron product. What’s so special about saffron? Aside from being the most expensive foodstuff on Earth, some studies have shown that safranal and crocin, organic compounds isolated from saffron, have an antidepressant effect on rats as well as mimic the behavior of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine in humans, which I’ll let you guys look into further. Let’s just say, Hunter S. Thompson should have hauled around a suitcase full of Fernet and saffron. He would have saved himself and his lawyer a lot of time and hassle.

Paul Allen

While having only recently relocated to DC, Paul has been a long time fan of DC’s cocktail culture. In his short career he has tended bar for GQ, Bombay Sapphire, Campari, and Nikka Whisky in London. Currently you can find him behind the stick at Firefly. When not working, he’s likely vociferously advocating for the DC Craft Bartender’s Guild or trying to brew the perfect cup of tea. Though he misses his native Rhode Island’s beaches and beautiful fall weather, Paul is proud to live, work, and–most importantly–drink in DC.


Comments are closed.