Two Cocktail Recipes With Menta Branca From Prime Meats Mixologist Damon Boelte

NYC bars are sweet on a bitter spirit

So many cocktail trends amount to what sounds like a dare, leading enthusiasts toward bolder and more challenging flavors. You like tequila? Then you should try mezcal. Bourbon's great, but have a sip of this right-off-the-still white dog.

In New York these days, the latest dare seems to be Fernet Branca. This 150-year-old, famously bitter Italian amaro–and purported hangover cure–has been showing up in cocktails in bars and restaurants all over the city.

Fernet Branca has traditionally (and mysteriously) been the fetish of the San Francisco set. But sales jumped 50 percent in New York during 2009, and there's been a similar bump in Boston.

Lucillia Crowe, vice-president of marketing for Infinium Spirits, which handles Fernet in the United States, gives credit to evangelizing bartenders. "Mixologists are traveling around and getting all over the place," she says. "It's a kind of bartender's handshake: 'Do you know it?'"

Chief among these preachers is Damon Boelte, the bar manager at Brooklyn's Prime Meats. He has the aggressively herbaceous elixir play the role of both eye-opener–in the Fernet-laced Italian Fizz on the breakfast menu–and nightcap, in the make-a-man-of-you Waterfront cocktail, which not only contains Fernet but also its more feminine sister, Branca Menta.

In terms of volume, San Francisco still holds the Fernet crown. But New York, says Crowe, "is gaining."