Perhaps you’ve been brave and sipped a sample from the eagle-clad bottle. Or you’ve watched others shoot it straight down and grimace in surprise. Or you’ve smelled it, handed it back and decided to go with something less … distinct. In any case, chances are good that you’ve come across Fernet Branca.
Ten years ago, Fernet was the hallmark of San Francisco’s cocktail scene, and since then it’s spread to infiltrate mixology menus all over. It’s a supposed cure for hangovers and upset stomachs, and it’s a favored shot of bartenders—paired with a chaser of ginger ale.
But there’s this other thing. A thing you may not be as familiar with. A surprising and unique sister spirit called Branca Menta.
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The Cool Kids Like It
Branca Menta is based on the same bitter herbal recipe of Fernet Branca, but it brings something else to the table: an icy blast of peppermint.
In the 1960s, it became popular for young drinkers to order Fernet Branca with a splash of mint syrup. In fact, a famous opera singer named Maria Callas was apparently well-known for drinking this combo on the daily. Branca noticed the popularity of the mixture and set out to create Fernet Branca’s spearmint twin.
How Do You Drink Branca Menta?
Usually, Branca Menta, like Fernet, is taken on its own as a digestif. It might be chilled or served over ice, but in any case, the sweeter, softer Menta lends itself better to sipping than shot-slamming. No chaser needed.
So what about mixing?
While Fernet is often mixed with Coca-Cola (especially in Argentina), Branca Menta is marketed as a good match for Sprite. And both spirits certainly do a good job of amping up a coffee. The Branca website lists only one other Branca Menta cocktail, the Mintonic.
Ultimately, that doesn’t leave us with a whole lot of variety, does it? With something like 40 herbs and spices crammed into that minty little bottle, it seems like Branca Menta’s potential for mixing should reach much further. And it does.
If you’ve ever been challenged to a shot of Fernet Branca, you know how polarizing it can be: it seems you either love it or hate it. Really, it takes a few tries to acclimate to the experience (and it’s worth it), but is Branca Menta any different?
The short answer is: yes. Branca Menta is easier to approach than Fernet, with a strong presence of mint, a sweeter profile, and lower ABV. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the complex and bitter experience Distillerie Branca has made famous. It just means that you’re going to drink this one a little differently.
Branca Menta, like its sister, looks like the deep, dark brown of melted molasses. It appears almost pitch black while trapped inside its tinted bottle, but once poured you’ll see lighter burnt caramel colors.
On the inhale, you mostly get strong, cooling mint oil, laced with a whiff of medicinal herbs. It’s actually pretty subtle, giving you only a preview of what’s about to come.
Sugar and mint absolutely dominate the first wave of flavor, then those bitter herbal notes creep in around the edges. There’s cinnamon and saffron, with piney tones shining over the surface. Still, a steady sweetness runs throughout.
Contrary to Fernet, Menta has a more syrupy feel. It coats the mouth with a bittersweet glaze, though I’d say the mint helps to prevent it from feeling too incredibly heavy.
This is where you get the most of those bracing Branca herbal flavors like gentian, chamomile, and licorice. It’s all toned down, with the edges smoothed out by the ever-present mint oil, but that medicinal haze is definitely there.
I’ll be honest, this wasn’t the easiest bottle to create cocktails for. Some digging around revealed that people have tried variations on other minty drinks like the Grasshopper, the Mojito, and the Julep. And I will say: you could replace crème de menthe with Branca Menta in many cases to get more interesting results.
Still, when the good people at Branca sent over a bottle for me to play with, I wanted to get creative. So here are some new ways to mix up Branca Menta. They should help keep you cool as summer’s heat ascends.
Menta Iced Coffee
There’s a glorious California-born institution known as Philz Coffee (recently name-dropped hard on HBO’s Silicon Valley). They do many wonderful things with the coffee bean, with one rather unique item called the Mint Mojito Iced Coffee. It’s a refreshing, hand-shaken concoction with plenty of mint leaves.
I give you the grown-up version, starring Branca Menta. It’s creamy, sweet, and cold, with a sharp minty kick. Subtle herbal layers, meanwhile, nod in the direction of a dark, spiced Turkish coffee.
- 4 oz freshly brewed coffee
- 1 oz Branca Menta
- 1 oz cream
- Fresh mint
Pour all liquid ingredients into shaker. Fill with as much ice as possible, shake, and pour over more ice. Garnish with sprig of fresh mint (always remember to spank it).
As mentioned, ginger beer is a go-to chaser for shots of Fernet Branca. I wasn’t sure how well the mint-heavy Branca Menta would work with ginger, but I wanted to try it out. I included aged rum and a healthy helping of Angostura as well.
The result is somewhere between a Mule and a Dark and Stormy. It’s a bubbly, refreshing summer cooler with honey sweetness over a mellow ginger burn. Careful with these, they go down easily. You’ll be blasted at brunch before you can say Branca.
- 3/4 oz aged rum
- 3/4 oz Branca Menta
- 6 dashes Angostura bitters
- 6 oz ginger beer
- Slice of lime
Pour rum, Branca Menta and bitters over ice, then top up with ginger beer. Squeeze lime wedge over the top and drop in.
My friend suggested putting Branca Menta into a milkshake, and he’s right—that’s a great idea. But I got to thinking about other possibilities with ice cream. You could pour Branca Menta over a scoop of gelato, affogato style. You could get clever with ice cream sandwiches. You could spike a root beer float.
Although all of these ideas will be part of my upcoming summer festivities, that last one got to me. I figured we could do one better by swapping out the root beer for Irish stout.
Oh man. It’s bitter, it’s sweet, it’s minty, it’s earthy, it’s malty, it’s chocolatey. And as things melt, the texture becomes increasingly silky and rich. Summer adult-dessert glory.
- 1 1/2 oz Branca Menta
- 1 pint dry stout
- 1 giant scoop vanilla ice cream
- Dark chocolate sauce
Pour shot of Branca Menta into a chilled pint glass. Pour 3/4 of the stout into the glass, then give it a minute or two to settle. Carefully float a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, add the remaining stout, and drizzle with chocolate sauce.