Drink of the Week

"You've got to try Fernet-Branca; it's my new favorite drink," said Ryan O'Brien, the knowledgeable, solicitous and darling bartender at Barolo Grill. "I've heard Sean Penn orders it by the case." When my medical doctor prescribes drugs, I take them. So when my drink doctor gave his prescription, I drank. And like much medicine, Fernet-Branca tasted so bad initially -- like bitter liquid Ricola cough drops -- that I wanted to take a cloth napkin and rub my tongue as Tom Hanks did after encountering caviar in Big. "Why the hell would anyone drink this?" I asked Ryan. "Because it's Italian," he answered, which anywhere else in Denver would sound ridiculous, but not at Barolo Grill. Here Italy is not a country, but a religion. At a less devout venue, a bartender would say the reason people are drinking Fernet-Branca is because it's the new fad. Just as Coca-Cola was originally conceived as a health tonic, Fernet-Branca's initial purpose was to cure what ails you. An 82-proof after-dinner digestive, it's made from over forty herbs and spices (including saffron, echinacea, quinine, ginseng, St. John's wort, sage, chamomile, peppermint oil, and lots and lots of saffron), and aged for over a year. Often referred to as "liquid reefer," it creates a very happy buzz and, according to news reports, helps with PMS, eases the side effects of arthritis and works better than Viagra. My masochistic leanings helped me finish my first glass of Fernet-Branca ($6), and by the end of the evening I'd come to appreciate its strange and foreign flavor -- perhaps because of the amazing "kind bud" effect. At Barolo Grill, it's obvious that "all roads lead to Rome" -- which is fine by me, so long as there's a bottle of Fernet-Branca waiting when I get there.


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