Fernet Branca Distillery Tour: Bartender Magazine Italian Aperitivo Tour

Dave Spanton at work at the Fernet Branca bar inside the museum

Words by Amy Spanton. Photography by David Spanton

As part of our aperitivo tour, who could go past a personal tour of the Fratelli Branca factory, just outside of Milan. Still owned by the Branca brothers, this is a proud Italian family business.

Like most booze, the history of Fernet is medicinal. In 1845 it was launched as a medicine to cure a range of ailments. The Branca Menta was launched because of famed opera singer Maria Callas who added peppermint and sugar to soothe her throat.

Fernet storage vats

In the bowels of the building is where you find the productions of everything from their brandy, Carpano, and of course, the Fernet Branca and Branca Menta. It’s a part of the building that is usually off limits for tours but it was so interesting to see the scale of the productions (even if it did recall the hideout of a James Bond Villain) – lots of metal vats, control panels, secure areas and of course a vast hallway of about 800 barrels for maturing the final fernet product for 12-15 months (at the discretion of the master blender).

The Fernet Museum

Our tour guide, Gianluca Barbieri, did tell us a funny story of a tour he did in the production zone. One of the guests opened a barrel to sample the product direct from the source. The entire barrel had to be scrapped at a cost of about 130,000 Euros.

In terms of the botanicals there are two distinct areas for hot infusion and cold infusion. In the cold infusion area you have to leave your phone at the door because of the high proof alcohol. It’s here you will find the high-cost botanical saffron in a huge metal vat. It’s still a handmade process to infuse the saffron. It’s kept in a vat for about a month and stirred every day.

The Fernet logo sits atop the building in Milan

Downstairs you will also find the biggest oak barrel in all of Europe. It contains about 84,000 litres of brandy. The museum upstairs is open to the public. One of the highlights of this is the big barrel of all the botanicals that you can touch and smell. The proportion of this is a secret but the herbs and botanicals are there to view, touch and taste.

Fernet in Argentina 
It’s so popular that the country now consumes more than 75% of all Fernet produced globally. And since the drink is traditionally mixed with Coca-Cola in an ice-filled glass, it also contributes to making Argentina one of the planet’s highest Coke consumers.

People here knock back about four times the global Coca-Cola average. Fernet and Coke is so popular in Argentina that the country now hosts the only Fernet production facility outside Milan — the Fratelli Branca distillery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. There, even marketing manager Heman Mutti acknowledges that the drink possesses a medicinal air.

Fernet: the Bartender’s Handshake
A shot between fellow bartenders is widely considered to be a way to start a friendship or to say hi – it’s a handshake, and shows that you have some industry cred. Next step? The tattoo. This poster has become a tattoo favourite among bartenders worldwide.