This classic charmer is essentially a Manhattan made with Fernet-Branca
The Manhattan Cocktail is one of our favorites. It’s a smooth combo of rye or bourbon and sweet (Italian) vermouth, spiced up with Angostura bitters.
Well, replace the bitters with Fernet-Branca (an Italian liqueur), and you have the Fanciulli Cocktail. This drink is largely forgotten today, but it seems to have been quite popular in pre-Prohibition America.
Time for a revival, no? Especially since the the Fanciulli’s spicy flavor makes it perfect for winter sipping.
We like to serve the Fanciulli as a predinner drink, though it’s great any time of the day. Well, maybe not for breakfast. But you know what we mean.
Recipe: The Fanciulli Cocktail
A recipe for the Fanciulli was first published in the 1931 edition of Old Waldorf Bar Days. But cocktail enthusiast Eric Felten says the drink goes back much further (we first learned about this drink from a 2009 article by Felten in the Wall Street Journal). You’ll find more history on this drink in the Notes.
The Fanciulli requires Fernet-Branca, an Italian bitter herbal liqueur (i.e., an amaro) that’s sometimes consumed neat as a digestif. Because its flavor is so strong, some people have used it as a morning-after pick-me-up (its powerful menthol-fueled flavor definitely will jolt you awake; so maybe you could drink the Fanciulli for breakfast after all). Because the flavor is so powerful, you need to use only a small quantity of Fernet-Branca in a cocktail; as is the case with this drink, it often replaces bitters.
Fernet-Branca has become rather trendy over the past decade, so you should be able to find it in any liquor store (it’ll be shelved in the same section as vermouth).
You can serve this drink either “up” in a cocktail glass, or over the rocks in an Old-Fashioned glass. We prefer the up version, but it’s good either way.
This recipe takes under 5 minutes to prepare, and serves 1.
- 1½ ounces bourbon or rye (see Notes)
- ¾ ounce sweet vermouth (Italian red vermouth; see Notes)
- ¼ to ½ ounce Fernet-Branca (to taste; start with ¼ ounce; see Notes)
- maraschino cherry for garnish (optional)
- Add all the ingredients (except garnish) to an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir until the ingredients are thoroughly chilled (about 30 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that’s been chilled). Garnish with a maraschino cherry, if you wish, and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because the ingredients are clear. Shaking introduces air bubbles, which can make a drink cloudy. (That doesn’t matter when some of the ingredients are opaque – think citrus juice).
- Having said that, let us make one thing clear (so to speak): Cocktail rules exist to be broken. So shake away if that’s your preference.
- The original formula for this drink was 2 parts bourbon, plus 1 part each sweet vermouth and Fernet-Branca. Way too much amaro for us! Most bartenders today make the drink with just ¼ ounce of Fernet-Branca.
- You may prefer a bit more, though (we sometimes add up to ½ ounce Fernet-Branca). Feel free to experiment, then make this drink to your own taste.
- Any good Italian (sweet) vermouth will work in this cocktail. There are several good ones available in liquor stores – so feel free to experiment with this element, too. We’ve used the Martini and Rossi brand, as well as Punt e Mes (which is a bit less sweet; definitely use only ¼ ounce of Fernet-Branca with this). At a restaurant, we once had a Fanciulli made with Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and that was quite good.
- This drink originally was made with bourbon, though many people like to use rye. We think bourbon works better. Our favorite bourbon for cocktails is Evan Williams, which is a bit on the dry side, as bourbons go. Old Grand-Dad 100 proof also works really well in this drink (and is a bit sweeter).
- We’ve mentioned several brand names, so let’s repeat our usual disclaimer: We’re noncommercial, and buy all our own booze. We recommend only what we like. No one compensates us for mentioning a brand.
- How did The Fanciulli Cocktail get its name? No one knows. The word fanciulli means “boys” or “children” in Italian.
- Eric Felten notes that The Fanciulli Cocktail probably was created in the early years of the 20th century, when a composer named Francesco Fanciulli was well known. Fanciulli, an Italian immigrant to the US, wrote comic operas. He also served as leader of the U.S. Marine Band during the 1890s, composing numerous marches (now mostly forgotten).
- So was the drink named after him? Who knows? All we know for sure is that it’s really good.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
“Nice,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, sipping her drink. “This is how I like to ring in the New Year.”
“The Fernet-Branca sets off some fireworks all on its own,” I said.
“Glad to meet you, Fernet-Branca,” said Mrs K R, holding up her glass. “Shall we resolve to spend more time with you in the coming year?”
Yup. That’s one resolution we can keep.
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