I was at the Chop Shop bar with a couple bocce players when the thought “shot” occurred to one of us. Well, maybe it occurred to all of us at the same time. Regardless, we all knew what was next: Fernet. As Carl was pouring the shots, [name redacted] approached the group. The interaction that followed can be described as typical.
“Would you like a shot?”
“Sure. What are you guys doing?”
“I’ve never had it.”
“Another shot of Fernet, please.”
“I don’t know, I usually stick to whiskey.”
“Okay. Well, this is Fernet.”
We all cheer our glasses. She eyes her shot with trepidation. We eye ours lustfully. After the shots are downed and we’ve patted each other on the back, we check in on [name redacted]. She is not doing well. She’s doing about as poorly as I’ve ever seen someone after a shot. We’re concerned and feeling pangs of guilt. This wasn’t what we wanted when we shared something beautiful with her.
Let me get this out of the way: I love Fernet and like Malort. I understand that they are abrasive to the typical American palate, though. They’re bitter spirits and we’ve never taught ourselves to enjoy bitter flavors here. It’s usually a flavor reserved for medicine. As a species, we evolved to taste bitter flavors specifically to avoid them—because poison, y’all.
Now, I’ve heard the phrase, “Why should you have to teach yourself to enjoy a spirit?” as a condemnation against Fernet, Malort and rest of the bitter liqueurs. This is a flimsy argument at best. Since I have conversations in my head all the time, I’m going to play this out like a conversation.
“Why should you have to teach yourself to enjoy a spirit?”
“To open up your world.”
“Well, I tried it and didn’t like it. I opened up my world and said, ‘Nope’ to Malort/Fernet.”
“I had a rough time in Paris. I had to transfer from one train station to another to catch my connection to Amsterdam. I was confused and anxious the whole time and no one helped at all. I did not like Paris at all on that day, but I’m still hoping to spend some time there at some point.”
“But that’s a historic city not some shitty alcohol.”
“These are historic spirits, but I’ll even cede that point to make a larger one. Learning to like Fernet, Malort or any of the other interesting and enjoyable bitter liqueurs is not just about adding a new potential shot to your imbibing arsenal nor is it to look cool when you can stomach what others cannot. Developing the bitter portion of your palate is about enjoying the whole spectrum of flavors that food and drink has to offer. It’s a beautiful thing when bitter no longer simply shocks the system and you are able to appreciate various notes and layers within the bitter spectrum.”
That’s what it comes down to for me. Food and drink are more enjoyable as I’ve grown more accustomed to bitter flavors. There’s more to say about these spirits and I probably will write about them again, but let’s leave it here for now: Better yourself. Drink Malort (and Fernet).