City Living

Lift Your Spirits: A Liquor for the Last Minute


Save for when Santa gets thirsty. Bill Chappell hide caption

itoggle caption Bill Chappell

Everybody is on an absinthe kick, it seems, happy to sip a drink on its passage back from the Dark Side and into the mainstream. That's great — but there are two liqueur-type herbals — or herbal-type liqueurs — I'd like to see get more props, as well.

The first, Fernet Branca, was a fave of Hunter S. Thompson, who claimed it to be the way out of the thorny woods of a hangover — sometimes the only way.

And I probably don't need to tell you, but if this stuff could clear out Hunter's hangover, yours should be no problem.

Fernet Branca has an oddly medicinal presence that begins with its alcohol-licorice smell and continues to its wince-inducing flavor. It has the look of mercurochrome that has gone bad in the barrel, taking a 180-degree turn away from the world of medicine and into the world of iniquity. And yes, I love it. It is highly specific, for one thing — I've been wracking my brains to even describe it. And a bottle goes a long way, meaning it's something for your guests to look at while you're making them another vodka-tonic. Trivia point: by far the most Fernet Branca consumption in the United States goes on in San Francisco, which has a lot to do with that city's Italian traditions. Think Russian Hill, Joe DiMaggio, and you got it.

I know far less about the second, Genepi, other than to say it's the Beatles to Fernet Branca's Rolling Stones: sweeter, warmer, not as life-threatening. The most well-known brand is Chartreuse; I have a bottle of Dolin's Le Chamois (the fawn, I think) that I got in France a couple months ago. Genepi takes its name from an aromatic plant that grows in the Alps and blooms in late summer; the flowers are harvested and used as the base for Genepi.

A quick Web search shows that once again, San Francisco leads all comers in consumption. Or at least, the Chartreuse site says that the city's 540 CLUB sells the most bottles, at 1,200 each year, good for first place in the world. What's up with that? I can't even make up a good lie about why that would be.

The Dolin's Chamois is a pretty nice, relaxing drink — smooth and friendly, a tad sweet where Chartreuse is a touch bitter. Its color is between the green and yellow varieties of Chartreuse, and it's perfect as a little warm-up nip after a walk in the cold. After all, it's nice to have something warm and green in the winter-time.

Between this Jekyll and Hyde pair, who needs absinthe?



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Chartreuse ? Wow, I bought a bottle twenty years ago by a recommendation of a friend and after tasting some for the first time I was convinced that my friend was insane. I was overwhelmed by the medicinal quality of this Pine-Sol flavored drink and I felt that by drinking any more it would remove the enamel from my teeth.

No wonder why I gave up drinking

Sent by Adam Hunt | 9:45 AM | 12-25-2007

Fernet is huge down in Buenos Aires, which makes sense given the largely italian heritage of the city. I tried it for the first time when I was studying abroad down there, but it took some getting used to. Here's a little hint: drink it with a splash or two of Coke like the Porte??os do. They claim that it eases the stomache after a night of drinking other liquors too.

Sent by Kevin | 12:45 PM | 12-26-2007

From the title "Oft-ignored liqueurs", I was hoping you'd mention Chartreuse. Better yet, you also speak of a couple similar to Chartreuse. I can't wait to add to my pantry of obscure items. Having been introduced to Chartreuse at age 21 may have been the thing to keep me on the straight and narrow -- a nice liqueur, a sip of which is more rewarding than 20 bottles of whiskey.

Sent by Scott Drylie | 10:58 PM | 12-26-2007