I made this “not even a cocktail” earlier today but then I got busy with the important business of life and completely forgot to post it. So, here we are with a nightcap, of sorts. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet, but we will have see how that turns out, brevity being the soul of wit and all. Join me now as we stand and make, the Hard Start. 

This drink is short, but I wouldn’t call it sweet. My buddy, Joe kept trying to turn me on to Fernet Branca and it kept not working, till today. I’ve been expanding my palate into bitter liqueurs, but today was the first time I felt like I really got it. I discovered this drink in Brad Thomas Parsons wonderful book, “Last Call”. This beautiful collection of images and stories explores great bars across the country, asking their bartenders what drink they’d choose for their last on earth, the final last call. Tonight’s drink comes from the chapter on the Brooklyn bar, Grand Army, where it is served on the rocks and as a shot. I was intrigued by the ingredients. One I haven’t made friends with and the other I had exactly once in a cocktail in Hartford, CT. Let’s make this super simple drink. 

Alright, nothing fancy here. Since both of my ingredients were already chilled, I opted to make this straight into a fancy little cordial glass. Add equal parts Fernet Branca and Branca Menta to your fancy little glass and stir. Garnish with well wishes and serve. 

Both of these ingredients are variations of Italian Amaro, a bitter liqueur. Fernet Branca is super herbal with 27 botanicals and Branca Menta is a variation of that recipe that is sweeter and adds a strongly herbal mint flavor. They are both acquired tastes, and both kind of wonderful. I was a bit intimidated by this one and there is no denying a certain cough syrup note to the flavor, but it is definitely interesting and tasty. I figured with a name like Hard Start that this one would be tough, but it goes down smooth. Fernet is a bit of a “bartenders handshake” which, for some reason, tend toward the herbal and bitter, so I was a bit worried. I shouldn’t have been concerned. For all the trouble I have had making friends with Fernet Branca, it was love at first sip with Branca Menta. I feel like once I got that introduction, I had a better grasp on the original and putting them together was wonderful. I popped about half of it like a shot and sipped the rest. Either way it goes down so smoothly and I haven’t coughed all afternoon. 

I know, it’s only two ingredients and there is no garnish, you could say that I wasn’t even trying. You’d be wrong, but you could say that. The thing is sometimes we don’t need to be so caught up in the details. This is a good drink, if you go in for this sort of thing, and there is nothing wrong with the occasional simple shot, especially when you find one so complex. I think I’ll have another before heading off to bed, you get some sleep too. After all, tomorrow is another day. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.