February 20 is Enzo Ferrari’s birthday. That takes us to the Ferrari cocktail as a great bartender’s handshake and our Drink of the Day.
You all know Enzo Ferrari as the creator of a dominating auto racing organization. Pretty much a bad-ass, he was always the guy in the room who didn’t care what anyone else thought. Quite irascible, he chose who would and wouldn’t get cars his operation produced, might deliver such cars in a color other than a customer had chosen and is quoted as saying “I don’t care if the door gaps are straight. When the driver steps on the gas I want him to shit his pants”. And he wore some pretty cool sunglasses.
Never one to avoid confrontation he told Feruccio Lamborghini “I build sports cars, you build tractors. You should stick to building tractors” and had epic grudge matches with Henry Ford II and Carroll Shelby.
Interestingly enough, while he resisted ever becoming the producer of consumer automobiles, we all know that Ferrari has become one of the world’s most beloved automobile companies.
But for all his virtues it doesn’t appear Enzo was much of a drinker. About all we know of is his affection for wine and an occasional Scotch before his Saturday lunch. No word on cocktails.
Where does that leave us? Given that The Drunkard’s Almanac has never held to the dictum of linear thought or clear logic we’ll turn now to the “bartender’s handshake.” Stay with us here, it’ll come together.
The bartender’s handshake is not a secret signal, decoder ring or method of grasping hands. It’s just a long-standing hospitality industry tradition between bartenders: a complementary drink like an amuse bouche, an insider’s wink, an acknowledgment that the recipient will enjoy something most clients wouldn’t care for.
That leads us to the topic of Fernet. Fernet is a subset of Amaro, usually more bitter and often with a minty element. Fernet Vittone lays claim to being the original, but Fernet Branca has dominated the field for years. Created in 1845 and initially marketed as a cure for cholera and menstrual cramps the business remains in the family. They’re the largest consumer of saffron in the world, effectively controlling that market. In a vaguely sinister fashion their logo depicts an eagle holding a bottle while flying over a globe labeled “Branca.”
Since it was considered a medicine Fernet Branca was still sold legally in the US during Prohibition. An espresso with a raw egg yolk folded in and a shot of Fernet Branca was considered an entirely appropriate Italian child’s breakfast before trundling off to school. It remained quite popular in the US until sometime in the 1960s when we entered the Dark Ages of drinking, those days of vodka and fruity drinks.
Fernet Branca is widely regarded as the basis of the bartender’s handshake, having come to prominence in San Francisco, probably in the largely Italian North Beach neighborhood where bartenders familiar with Italian digestifs started sharing the goods with their friends. It was soon an inside baseball type thing and a shot of the previously obscure drink became a familiar handshake. Most non-industry people would agree that the taste is not for the faint of heart, but it nonetheless is an important pantry item and deserves a space in your home alongside other medicinal goods like Chartreuse. Besides, it’s an essential ingredient in the Hanky Panky cocktail and let’s face it, we all like a little hanky panky now and then.
Before we get to the Drink of the Day we should note that bartender’s handshakes have branched out to cover a wider range, ranging from such things as the Snaquiri (a miniature daiquiri), various amaro concoctions, a shot of bitters right from the bottle and even the famously foul tasting Jeppson’s Malort (Chicago’s proudly unpalatable spirit).
So what’s the Drink of the Day already? It’s the Ferrari. That’s right, a Ferrari cocktail. This one is very popular in the world of bartender’s handshakes. It’s easy as pie to mix up and as contains only ordinary household supplies. After all, it’s just a 50:50 mix of Fernet Branca and Campari.
The originator of the Ferrari is unclear. Our Editorial Board sent the Bat-Signal to the bartender community and nobody came back with an answer. But it’s nonetheless a great drink and somehow, miraculously, takes the edge off both of its components. Here’s how you do it:
- 1 oz Fernet Branca
- 1 oz Campari
- Garnish: none
- Fill a small glass with ice to chill.
- Add ingredients to mixing glass, add ice and stir to chill.
- Toss ice from glass being chilled and strain drink to this glass.