Omnivore - Origins of Atlanta's Fernet obsession
Are Greg Best and Andy Minchow (of Holeman & Finch fame) single-handedly responsible for the recent proliferation of Fernet Branca throughout Atlanta's bar scene? Probably. Just five years ago, casual enthusiasts of the popular digestivo would be hard-pressed to find the bitter liqueur stocked in any of their local drinking establishments.
Fast forward to 2011 and the unassuming silhouette of Fernet's jade green bottle can be found anywhere from Atlanta's diviest dives to its most esteemed, high-end eateries. How did this happen? And more importantly, why are people so devoted to a spirit that tastes strongly of bitter earth, mouthwash, and herbal medicine? I asked some of the Fernet-drinking barkeeps in town why they started drinking the stuff, they all had the same answer: Greg Best.
We caught up with Best (who was featured in the Food Issue's bartender roundtable discussion) at H&F Bottleshop. He was happy to share his insights on origins of the current Fernet phenomenon:
Circa 13 years ago and before coming to Atlanta, Greg Best and Andy Minchow tended bar at Delmonico Steakhouse in Vegas. "I have to admit," says Best, "that back in those days we didn't know much about cocktails. We drank things like Captain and Coke when we went out to bars."
At Delmonico, they met Francesco Lafranconi, a well-respected bartender in the cocktail world, who became a sort of pseudo-mentor to the two men. One day they asked Lafranconi what he thought was best to drink after gorging on a huge meal like Thanksgiving dinner. "He told us that everyone in Italy drank Fernet Branca because it's an excellent digestivo," says Best.
Intrigued, Best and Minchow returned to work. Sure enough they found a bottle of Fernet hidden in plain view and covered with dust behind the bar. "We tried it and we hated it," Best admits. "But for some reason we kept drinking it and chasing it with ginger ale. After having to force those first few shots, I realized that there was something different about drinking Fernet, it gave me a kind of body buzz and I liked it." Best and Minchow decided to make Fernet their shot of choice and codified it as their bartender's handshake.