Heritage inspires winning bartender in Fernet-Branca competition

Jonas Stern Fernet-Branca

Jonas Stern from London’s Pollen Street Social won a UK competition for Fernet-Branca in Italy with a cocktail inspired by the classic spirit’s heritage.

He devised the Crusta-style Yellow Crocodile using saffron – one of the key ingredients in the Italian bitter – along with Fernet-Branca, gin, sweet vinegar, and orange liqueur Quaglia Chinotto. He named it after a vintage poster for the brand that shows a yellow crocodile – reproduced on a T-shirt he created for his presentation.

Jonas (pictured above) not only won £1,000 but has also been accepted into the exclusive Fernet-Branca Secret Society – a network of drinks industry people which celebrates the heritage and versatility of the brand.

He faced tough competition from five other bartenders who had also won regional heats across the UK. All six were taken by UK distributor Hi-Spirits to the Fratelli Branca Distillerie in Milan for the final where each presented two cocktails using Fernet-Branca – one they had developed for the regional heat and one using ingredients chosen from a mystery box.

In second place was Ehren Khoo-Steel from Mojo in Leeds, closely followed by Kyle Hamilton from Panda & Sons in Edinburgh. See below for the top three bartenders’ recipes.

The other finalists were Mark Delaney from Filter & Fox in Liverpool, Isaac Windsor from The Milk Thistle in Bristol, and Johny Hume from Bonbar in Newcastle upon Tyne. All of them received a rare, sought-after Fernet-Branca Coin for being part of the Fernet-Branca “family”.

The judges included Bar magazine editor Mark Ludmon along with four bartenders from Milan: Francesco Cione from Octavius bar at The Stage, Mattia Lissoni and Carlo Simbula from Pinch, and Katerina Logvinova from The Botanical Club.

The UK final was introduced by Fernet-Branca global brand ambassador Nicola Olianas. He said: “The passion and dedication of the bartenders I met during the competition was inspiring. They showed knowledge and deep understanding of Fernet-Branca as a classic drink as well as an ingredient, and of Branca as a family as well as a company. That is at the heart of our approach and makes them part of the family!”

Jonas was presented with his £1,000 prize by Count Niccolò Branca, whose ancestor Bernardino Branca created Fernet-Branca in 1845.

Jonas said: “It was great to compete with five of the best bartenders in the UK, all showing such great passion for Fernet-Branca. To come out on top was amazing, especially since we competed at the home of the brand in Milan with Count Branca himself present.

“Being part of the Secret Society now is a great honour and responsibility, as Fernet-Branca is rooted so deeply in history and so well respected throughout the world.”

As well as touring the Fratelli Branca Distillerie, the six winners were also taken to the Antiche distillery near Venice, where Antica Sambuca is made, and the home of Lazzaroni Amaretto in Saronno. They also attended an event to mark the 230th anniversary of Carpano and Antica Formula vermouths in Turin – also owned by Fratelli Branca Distillerie.

The six finalists, pictured left to right: Kyle Hamilton, Isaac Windsor, Johny Hume (at front), Jonas Stern, Mark Delaney, and Ehren Khoo-Steel.

Fernet Branca competition finalists

The Yellow Crocodile by Jonas Stern
30ml Fernet-Branca
15ml London dry gin
15ml Saffron syrup
10ml Cider vinegar
10ml Quaglia Chinotto
Shake the ingredients with ice and double-strain into a champagne flute with a Crusta-style rim of saffron powder sugar. Garnish with a lemon peel.

18.45 by Ehren Khoo-Steel
25ml Fernet-Branca
35ml Wild Beer Millionaire salted caramel and chocolate milk stout
20ml Lapsang Souchong syrup
1 Egg yolk
5 dash Absinthe
2 dash Walnut bitters
Small pinch of salt
Shake all with ice and double-strain into a chilled coupette. Garnish with a star anise.

Veni, Vidi, Bibi by Kyle Hamilton
50ml Sweet vermouth
25ml Fernet-Branca
7.5ml Kümmel
Stir down for 15 seconds with ice and strain into a crystal tulip glass. Garnish with a spray of lemon oil.

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