You know Fernet-Branca, that famously super-bitter Italian sipper. But do you know its minty, tamer cousin?

By Lisa Futterman
Chicago Tribune

Perhaps you’ve tried Fernet-Branca, the super-bitter, pine-y, kinda medicinal Italian digestive that is a staple bottle for bartenders the world over. But Fernet-Branca’s younger sibling, Brancamenta, is much easier to take.

Brancamenta combines with rye in a Black Branca, a quirky but simple variation on the modern classic Black Manhattan.

Also made in Milan, the Menta is based on the same recipe of more than 27 herbs and botanicals, but tastes sweeter, and is way heavier on the peppermint. The company created it in response to drinkers adding mint syrup to their fernet-and-colas back in the ’60s. Still classified as an amaro like its elder, it can be taken neat or in highballs, but is very friendly over crushed ice, as a minty, mentholated, 60-proof adult snow cone.

Its sweet minty goodness easily translates to drinks for dessert. A shot of Brancamenta in hot cocoa takes the classic peppermint chocolate combo to a different place. Keep things Italian-style by adding a shot of Brancamenta to your affogato (a dessert featuring espresso poured over vanilla gelato.) Play with the classic mint-forward grasshopper recipe — just don’t expect your drink to turn out quite so leafy green.

Archie Powell, bar manager at Bar Biscay in Chicago really digs it. “I mean, Rumple Minze (peppermint liqueur) is a guilty pleasure but Brancamenta delivers that minty flavor but not so sugary or sticky. It works great in a Black Manhattan — the mint pairs great with the vanilla-y flavor of the brown liquor. It also works wonders in a mint julep for an extra layer of amaro flavor, which bolsters the mint vibes.”

Grace Bernotavicius, bar manager at Ludlow Liquors in Chicago recommends the Davidson, a stirred cocktailcomposed of light rum, Cynar (artichoke liqueur), genepy (herbal liqueur), Brancamenta and a couple dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. The cocktail is one of many I’ve come across that uses Brancamenta to deliver most of the sweetness in the drink. “The varied herbal qualities of the Cynar and Brancamenta blend nicely with the sweetness of the rum and the sharpness of the genepy,” Bernotavicius says, “and the acidity of just a small amount of lime juice rounds the cocktail out perfectly.”

Brancamenta wants to be taken seriously — its base, after all, is one of the most bad-assed amari around. Try our recipe for a Black Branca, a quirky but simple variation on the modern classic Black Manhattan, to visit the darker side of the drink.

Black Branca

Makes: 1 drink

2 ounces rye whiskey

1 ounce Brancamenta

1 dash Angostura bitters

Brandied cherry

Mint leaf

In a mixing glass, stir the rye, Brancamenta, and bitters with ice until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass; serve garnished with a brandied cherry and a mint leaf.