Chicago’s Forbidden Root Brewery has partnered with historic Italian amaro producer Fernet-Branca to create a new spirit-inspired imperial black ale, appropriately named Fernetic.
The collaboratively brewed beer is set to debut on January 19 and only 50 cases of the limited-release offering will be available for purchase.
Aged on wood and made with 20 different botanical ingredients (Fernet-Branca is made with 27), the beer mimics the flavors found in Fernet, a bitter herbal liqueur often consumed “neat” as an after-dinner digestif.
In recent years, Fernet-Branca’s version, which was first developed in 1845, has become popular amongst U.S. bartenders and mixologists.
So how did Fernet-Branca, the most recognizable producer of the Fernet amaro in the world, come to collaborate with a relatively unknown Chicago-based craft brewery?
According to brewery founder Robert Finkel, the relationship began last year when Eduardo Branca, a sixth-generation member of the Branca family, turned up at the Forbidden Root restaurant for lunch during one of his U.S. market visits.
“He sat there with more than a flight of our beers, trying each one, and I just kept bringing him more because I wanted him to taste everything,” Finkel told Brewbound.
After about three hours of tasting and touring, Finkel asked Branca if the company would ever consider brewing a Fernet-inspired beer with Forbidden Root.
“We just had this connection,” Finkel said.
Fernet-Branca had been approached by other beer makers in the past, but had never committed to a brewing partner until meeting with Forbidden Root, Finkel added.
“He’s obsessed,” he said. “He loves seeing people drink Fernet. It is as close to religion as I have ever seen from someone with a product in their being, and that is motivating.”
After some preliminary tasting trials, the final version of Fernetic — which is adorned with a custom-designed label featuring both companies’ logos and the same stylized text that Fernet-Branca loyalists will recognize — was born.
The beer, which incorporates wormwood, rhubarb, saffron and 17 other other spicy, grassy and herbal ingredients, will sell for a suggested price of $15, Finkel said.
The two companies are also discussing the potential for brewing future batches on an annual basis.
“I couldn’t think of a collaboration that better defines, and amplifies to the world, who we are and what we like doing,” Finkel said. “We are never going to make money on this. We are in this because artists like to be seen an enjoyed, and part of this is art. We are brand building.”
Fernetic isn’t the first Fernet-inspired beer produced by a U.S. craft brewery, however. In 2013, Colorado’s Odell Brewing collaborated with Leopold Bros. to produce a Fernet-aged porter.
According to a press release issued at the time of that beer’s release, Odell collected emptied Fernet barrels and filled them with a “rich porter.” The finished product had a flavors of “roasty chocolate malt” and “hints of mint and licorice.”
Forbidden Root’s offering, however, was not aged in barrels that once contained Fernet. Instead, the recipe was carefully constructed to mirror the flavors of Fernet-Branca and aged on “new wood,” Finkel said.