The first time a bartender friend shoved a glass of Fernet Branca & Coca-Cola in my face, my mouth and mind revolted at the bitterly herbal yet bubbly sweet combo. Like so many acquired tastes, though, I came to be fascinated by the main ingredient, soon learning that fernet is technically a type of amaro, used primarily a digestif to settle the stomach after a rich dinner — or as a hangover prophylactic.
I don’t recall ever seeing an alternative to the dominant Branca brand, but now Santa Barbara — reportedly one of the top five fernet-consuming cities in California — boasts its own version. Throwback Fernet is the creation of Black Market Spirits, a partnership between veteran distiller Ian Cutler and entrepreneur Matt Fraser, former bartender at Q’s and co-owner of Statemynt on State Street.
“The complexity and sheer number of botanicals makes this type of spirit difficult to balance, so I saw this as both a creative challenge and a daunting task to create something balanced and enjoyable,” explained Cutler, who tried out more than 100 concoctions with the goal of a more approachable, softer, and slightly less bitter result. He opted for a bit of chocolate from Twenty-Four Blackbirds, some Ojai Pixie tangerines, and then a range of dried fruits, peppermint, aloe, cardamom, chamomile, and about a dozen secret ingredients. The result is a bit like mint chocolate chip ice cream hooked up with bay leaf and bouquet garni to make a baby.
“I am excited to have people try Throwback and have been thrilled with the response we have gotten to date,” said Cutler, who prefers his fernet chilled and straight up but is also finding it a nice partner with Aperol. And it’s not too bad with Coca-Cola either.
4•1•1 | Throwback is for sale at Cutler’s Artisan Spirits and Hi-Time Liquors, and also behind the bar at the Boathouse, FisHouse, Glass House, Pickle Room, Holdren’s, O’Malley’s, and The Bobcat. See blackmarketspirits.com.