Is Fernet Branca set to be the new Jägermeister?
Go to any nightclub in the UK, probably the world tonight and you’ll see shots of Jägermeister being dropped into rocks glasses filled with Red Bull and downed by partiers everywhere. It wasn’t always like this. Go back 10 years, and the public didn’t know what Jäger was, and it was something of a bartender’s handshake to order a shot of Jedi. Not so now, but if someone orders a shot of Fernet, you can be confident they’ve spent time behind the wood.
A world before the Jägerbomb
My bar career started in 2000 at a nightclub in Stafford, and Jägermeister was nowhere to be found. The shots of the day were Tequila Rose, Aftershock and the like. Aftershock has really nosedived in recent years, but at the time when the majority of drinks sold where Reef, Bacardi Breezer or Smirnoff Ice, the sickly sweet, thick liquids of Aftershock were certainly in vogue. In these days, even French
Connection had an FCUK alcopop in Lemon or Cranberry available, and WKD had not made it to the scene.
A few years later, and a few bars later I arrived at TGI Friday’s and Jägermeister was a rarely opened bottle kept on the back bar (and later in the freezer) which was generally acknowledged as being pretty unpleasant and thought of in the same circles as Chartreuse and Benedictine, both of which have found favour once again with the resurgence of classic and craft cocktails and waxed moustaches.
The Rise of Jägermeister
I think it was a flair competition in Oxford around 2005 when I first found out about Jäger becoming popular with bartenders, which probably means it had been cool for a couple of years in London. Bartenders were drinking frozen shots together after the competition, while the guests around them looked confused and ordered their vodka cokes. It was a revelation and having a shot in your hand was a clear sign that you were on the inside.
I’d continue to compete in flair competitions in the coming years and Jägermeister continued to be a big part of the parties that followed. A visit to Be At One in London’s Covent Garden introduced me to the Hornblower – a Jägermeister twist on the caipirinha in a taller glass and topped with Red Bull (probably the first time I’d heard of combining the two – Recipe below!
The Hornblower Cocktail Recipe
- 2oz (60ml) Jägermeister
- 3 lime wedges (1/6 cut)
- 3 bar spoons white sugar
- Fill with Red Bull
The ingredients are muddled in a Collins glass and served over crushed ice. Super sweet and so cool because you knew what it was.
The Jagerbomb for me never really became a thing until post Dubai – so 2011 when I got back, and all of a sudden this was the shooter to be drinking. Not exactly sophisticated, and I’d certainly heard of it pre 2010 but in recent years it’s become ubiquitous and the new icon of excess in nightclubs everywhere. But if the general public knows all about Jäger now, what do bartenders drink to stand apart?
Enter Fernet Branca
For those not yet in the know (which is probably not too many), Fernet Branca is an Italian Amaro liqueur, created by Bernandino Branca in Milan in 1845. Its super bitter, and is made from a mix of 27 herbs and flavouring ingredients, which are, in the tradition of many drinks a closely guarded secret. Perfect.
Bartenders love to know about something that the normal people don’t, it gives us a fun sense of artificial superiority. You’ll see it in mixology competitions everywhere as a way of showcasing a bartender’s incredible taste, even if it really doesn’t fit in the drink. Of course, if you don’t enjoy it, its because your tastes aren’t sufficiently developed to understand it.
I joke of course, but it sometimes feels that way. Fernet is an acquired taste in the same way that Campari in a Negroni is very challenging to those who’ve not experienced its dry bitterness, but quickly becomes addictive to those who put the effort in to push past the first taste.
Fernet Branca is now seen as something of a handshake for bartenders, an easy way to give a massive clue that you work in the industry when you order one at the bar. Will we see FernetBombs in the next 5 years taking over the nightclubs across the land? Who knows, but if past form is anything to go by, it’s not impossible!