A decade ago, the Weekly crew headed down to Old World Village for their annual Oktoberfest media preview. Among the plates of sauerkraut and sausages, the busty babes, and the liederhosen was a group of gals peddling Fernet Branca. None of us knew what it was, none of us liked it, and all of us laughed at the gals' pitch: that it helped with digestion, cured cholera, and was invented by a woman trying to cure her PMS. “So, next time you party too hard and come home with a headache, indigestion, feeling bloated with a deep hatred of men and a bit of the cholera, you'll know where to turn,” wrote the legendary Steve Lowery, whom we miss terribly 'round here. Lowery? LOWERY!!!
Flash-forward to a decade, and now all the hipsters are swearing by Fernet (my conversion, by the way, happened about six years ago), so much so that regular ol' Branca isn't enough. Little Sparrow Cafe in SanTana, which we raved about last month, has a spectacular accompanying bar which stocks Fernet Vallet, the digestif's Mexican cousin. Since my type of Mexicans only drank blindingly hot sugarcane alcohol, I had never heard of this variety. The cocktail that Little Sparrow featured it in was great, but I needed a bottle of the pure stuff and so headed to Hi-Time in Costa Mesa.
The first thing you'll notice is that Fernet Vallet is slightly milder than Branca–70 proof instead of Branca's 78. But that's like saying Ty Cobbs was a slightly better hitter than Ted Williams, because Vallet is strong: woodsy, bracing, as thick as cough syrup and blacker than ink. Perfect as a nightcap, it's not for everyone–but once you fall for its charms, you'll never want another way to end your night. Finally, as a font geek, LOVE that late-19th century serif type–you could imagine Posada drinking some Fernet Vallet while drawing one of his legendary calacas.