Nicola Olianas, Global Ambassador for the Fratelli Branca portfolio was recently in Australia to host a series of seminars on the famed Fernet-Branca and the portfolio. Nicola sat down with Drinks World’s Lukas Raschilla to chat about all things Branca and give some insight into the brand that’s known as the bartenders handshake around the world.
Lukas Raschilla: What have you been up to with Fernet-Branca and what brings you to Australia? Is this your first time down under?
Nicola Olianas: This is my second time here, the first time was five years ago. Australia for us is important and we are growing fast with Fernet-Branca, with Antica, with Punt e Mes, Branca-Menta and Café Borghetti. There are big, big things going on here and five years is a long time, so I needed to come here again to check the market.
LR: What are you hoping to achieve with the masterclasses?
NO: For me, I never call them masterclasses. Once you’ve been to one of my ‘masteclasses’ you actually realise that it’s not actually a masterclass – it’s more what I call ‘sharing moments’. What I’m doing, I’m sharing the information that I’m lucky enough to have about this brand, about this company that people are interested in. I’m lucky enough to work for this company and actually live in this company! I live in Milan and my apartment is within the production site. I live this brand, I smell this brand, so my masterclasses, my seminars are about what I see, what I feel and what I smell every day living in the company. I think today, storytelling is very important, consumers today aren’t really that interested in the production method, extraction techniques and so forth, they are interested in what is hitting them from the inside, the storytelling, the truth about the brand, what makes the brand such an acquired taste, so it’s all of this information that I want to share with them and transfer that to the consumer.
LR: Fernet-Branca is a staple in Italy, Europe and Argentina. What were the challenges in bringing it to markets that aren’t familiar with Fernet-Branca, particularly for the on-premise?
NO: Honestly, nowadays it’s really hard to find a market that doesn’t know Fernet-Branca, especially when you visit a market and go to cocktail bars. I think the bartending community today knows Fernet-Branca everywhere in the world. I’ve been to China, everywhere in Europe, South America and if there’s a good cocktail bar, there’s a bottle of Antica Formula and a bottle of Fernet-Branca and there’s a bartender behind the bar that knows how to use them and drinks Fernet-Branca.
R: Fernet-Branca is known as the ‘bartenders handshake’. Was this something that the brand intended, or something that happened organically from the industry?
NO: It physiologically happened. I mean, we know we are harsh but we believe in the brand and we never change the liquid so this is something that naturally happened and we are cultivating that with the coins, with events just dedicated for the industry with seminars and inviting them to our distillery. There’s no marketing ploy behind it. We know it’s the bartenders handshake, but this was something nominated by bartenders. So I think the people that drink Fernet-Branca belong to the most famous, unknown secret club in the world. And the thing is that, it becomes the bartender’s handshake because people that drink Fernet-Branca have something in common more than just drinking Fernet-Branca, what they have in common is that they take things differently, they approach things differently, so this is the thing. Offering a shot of Fernet-Branca to other people is like a clear statement of belonging to the same group.
There’s a story though, which is fun. Many many years ago, Amaro was always available but they were moving very slowly in bars. Managers would check their stock on all different products in the bar, except for the amaro. So the bartenders could drink it without being caught by their managers, and they could offer amaro to other bartenders.
LR: If someone has never had Fernet-Branca before, how would you describe the product and what would you say it tastes like?
NO: It tastes like the truth. For sure you won’t like it in the beginning, but once you start learning and appreciating the truth, you just want the truth. It’s the real taste of herbal spices, it’s a straightforward drink, it’s a concentration of emotional and complexity, it’s very herbaceous, the real taste of nature is how I describe it. It’s an acquired taste, but it grows on you and you crave it. It’s no point for me just to describe Fernet as an amaro or digestif or remedy, I try to give it an emotional description. I know something is going to happen when you drink it.
LR: Do you have a target consumer market for Fernet?
NO: Every country has it’s own. Of course, our target is those people that really know the drink, and people who drink Fernet-Branca because they want to drink it. It’s a very mature type of drinker. We would like to gain those around the 25-35 age range, but earlier than that we understand that there isn’t a mature palate yet for the taste of Fernet-Branca. On the other hand what we are trying to do is switch the hand that is serving Fernet-Branca to the people, this is the task. It’s working very well in Germany, it’s working very well in Italy in cocktail bars where young bartenders are proposing Fernet-Branca, so the hand that is pouring a Fernet-Branca is a young hand, so it’s going to be more influential to the consumer. We really believe in bartenders, we really believe in the professionals in this industry and we really think those are our ambassadors.
LR: I’ve heard that Fernet-Branca is a drink that can help when people are unwell or recovering from a night out, is there any truth to this?
NO: Fernet-Branca was born as a remedy, as one cure for
all. It was like a cure for everything; headache, blood pressure, stomach ache, flu. Going back to your question, yes it’s a very good cure for a hangover because it’s very bitter, has no sugar and has the beneficial power of herbs, which help you to recover, and get your body on track again. For digestive problems Fernet-Branca also helps. Don’t get me wrong, it’s alcohol, but if you have to drink something you better drink something that’s 100 percent natural, no colourant, no sugar, with a number of herbs and spices, which is Fernet-Branca.