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Fernet Branca Delisted

January 30, 2013

Last month I was reading the fall issue of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s newsletter, as one does, and was saddened and more than a little upset to see that Fernet Branca has been delisted, meaning that the ABC will no longer be carrying it in any of its stores statewide. This did not come as a complete surprise, as I had noticed its disappearance from the shelf at a store I frequent. Having been for some time a strict bottom-shelfer (Old Crow) due to a poverty consequent to uselessness and aggravated by good taste, I had not been looking to buy but simply seeking a visit with an old friend, perhaps with a quick caress and the unspoken promise of future consummation. Now I know there will be no more visiting, not in this godforsaken (how else can you explain it?) state. True, Fernet remains in the ABC’s special order catalog, so you can still request a shipment. But that kills the spontaneity, and thus much of the passion.

Fernet Branca, for those who don’t know it, is a magical elixir. An herbal liqueur from Italy with a potent medicinal flavor that many find repugnant, it  is popular with Argentines, San Franciscans, Vespa owners, bar staff and me. Douchebags, basically, but don’t hold that against it. Fernet is bracing, enlivening, soul-cleansing, spirit-refreshing, pseudo-healthful and good for the tummy, all while getting you just as drunk as any other 80-proof. And yet there is something of death in it too, a whiff of poison, a staining color, a drowned horror, a hint of dread. It is among the most philosophical of beverages. Drinking it may be as good a substitute for living an interesting life as you can find.

The newsletter explained that sometimes products had to be delisted because they were not selling well enough to justify taking up shelf space. They have to be pushed aside to make way for new products. And what new products was the ABC stocking this past fall, to crowd out Fernet Branca? Here are a few of them: Adult Chocolate Milk, Kinky Liqueur, Dekuyper Crave Chocolate Chili Liqueur, Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry, Skinnygirl White Peach Margarita, Skinnygirl Cucumber Vodka, Skinnygirl Island Coconut Vodka, 360 Glazed Donut Flavored Vodka, and Three Olives Smores Flavored Vodka. Now, I know they have to carry shitty candy liquor for the kids. I understand and I approve. Shitty liquor has an important role to play in human development. It provides our nation’s youth with memories, and memory gaps, that will last a lifetime. I cherish my own shitty liquor memories. But does the ABC need to carry so much of it, in such variety? People who drink flavored vodka don’t care what they are drinking, or they would not be drinking flavored vodka to begin with, so how many different kinds of flavored vodka do they need to be able to choose from? If there were no donut flavored vodka, would anybody miss it? Fernet Branca is a classic. It is distinctive, irreplaceable, beloved. Fernet was around long before Skinnygirl was even a gleam in in a marketeer’s eye, and it will be around long after the last skinny girl to drink Skinnygirl has either plumped or died. Slender, in single file, a few bottles of Fernet do not take up much shelf space. But to the heart and soul of what a liquor store can be, must be, maybe is, Fernet has so much to give. It is spirit overflowing. It is the bitter waters of life itself. How can they take that away from us?

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