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Foraging Through Austria's Forests With Fernet Hunter: Classic, Granit, BC, Yotei, Cacao

 

Fernet Hunter is a brand of bitters that burst onto the scene with its really sleek and modern, almost edgy packaging - none of that old school cursive text, big logos or in your face motifs that almost seem to emanate from the label.

The brand itself is relatively young, having only started in 2016, led by Raphael Holzer, former manager of Yardbird (and also Ronin and Sunday Grocery's) in Hong Kong, and whose family counts four generations of bitters making in Austria.

   

Raphael Holzer. (Image Source: Fernet Hunter)

 

Raphael's great grandfather Oskar Holzer had first gotten acquainted with Fernet, the Italian bitter, when he began working to expand a brand called Fernet Stock from Trieste, Italy. However, as World War II swept across Europe, he would find himself having relocated to Linz, Austria, where his son Guido, would eventually grow up to become a distiller himself for Fernet Stock. Eventually Guido would set out to start his own brand Holzer & Holzer, obviously taken from the family name, and his own son Gilbert would later on carry on the business up until the 1980's when the family's independent distillery would close.

But as one door closes, maybe... the door opens again? I'm not sure, but you can call me Shakespeare. In any case, Raphael, Gilbert's son, Guido's grandson, and finally Oskar's great grandson, would therefore grow up in the Brunnwald Forests of Austria, and eventually head over to Hong Kong. Whilst in Hong Kong, Raphael had the idea to go back to his roots and revive his family's early 1900's fernet recipe. With some convincing, Raphael had managed to convince his father to help bring back the family's tradition, and thus Fernet Hunter was born. 

 

Although Fernet Hunter calls Hong Kong home, its ingredients are hand harvested from Raphael's hometown of Brunnwald, Austria. (Image Source: Fernet Hunter)

  

Fernet Hunter at its core is made primarily with a combination of botanicals including Arnica, Orrisroot and Lavender - this forms the base of Fernet Hunter, with each subsequent editions a variant of this fundamental recipe. The bitter is picked from Austria's Brunnwald Forests during the hunting season (hence the name "Fernet Hunter" and the striking imagery on the standard expression as you'll see shortly), and then dried, before subsequently using a low-temp infusion method to extract the flavours for the fernet.

From there, Raphael then takes Fernet Hunter to his East Asia playground of Hong Kong from which he's sought to make a name for the modern take on a traditional Italian bitter.

Today we're going to give a selection of Fernet Hunter's recipes a go - keep in mind they all wrap around the core recipe of Arnica, Orrisroot and Lavender.

I've been very excited for this, having seen it on my socials from friends in Hong Kong, so let's finally give it a go!

Fernet Hunter - Review 

Striking label right? As mentioned, the idea here is to convey Fernet Hunter's picking of herbs and botanicals during Austria's hunting season, and yeah I don't think there's any deer in it. I'll taste it and let you know. This is the standard Fernet Hunter expression that forms the basis for the subsequent variants - so really big focus on the core three botanicals of Arnica, Orrisroot and Lavender.

 

Tasting Notes

Aroma: Chamomile essential oil, feels like a spa. There’s a darker bit of dried herbal roots, as well as a little bit of orange blossoms and pine forests.

Taste: Considerably sweet, chamomile syrup. 

Finish: Clean, aromatic, more lavender, with a softer bit of rosemary and clove.

  

My Thoughts

This was absolutely lovely - super aromatic, it packs in a good bit of syrupy sweetness on a creamy texture. It’s really approachable and versatile, easy to apply to quite any mixer with a good bit of floral, sweet, herbal and spiced dimensions. You could readily add this to soda water and flavour it up. 

Fernet Hunter Granit - Review 

The Granit is a more dry take on the standard Fernet Hunter expression by reducing the sugar content and raising the bitterness. It also has chamomile added, with its name coming from granite rocks that can be found across Austria's wilderness. 

 

Tasting Notes

Aroma: Christmas spice, again very aromatic. It’s noticeably alittle more dry, with a light herbal edge.

Taste: Very mellow, more of that Christmas spice. It’s very creamy and rounded, backed by more cinnamon sugar, darker profile here.

Finish: Very aromatic - lingering earthy spiced sweetness.

 

My Thoughts

So. Much. Christmas spice. This feels like Santa sneezed into it. Utterly fantastic - it’s pure cinnamon sugar with a great thicker texture. It’s not as sweet as the standard Fernet Hunter expression certainly, but not all that dry either. This would work in a Dark and Stormy or in a Pina Colada. 

Fernet Hunter BC - Review 

BC is in reference to Canada's British Columbia, and is a collaboration with Max Jenke of Endeavor Snowboards, that celebrates the duo's passion for snowboarding. Materially this differs from the other Fernet Hunter staples with the addition of wild blueberries sourced from Brunnwald, Austria, and also British Columbia, Canada.

 

Tasting Notes

Aroma: Brighter, slightly tart, and then back to the herbaceous qualities of dried medicinal roots.

Taste: Very well rounded, with a light blueberry jam flavour. Backed up by more brown sugar.

Finish: More of that blueberry jam.

   

My Thoughts

Fantastic stuff! So approachable, the blueberry jam notes didn’t come through so much on the nose, but really came in more densely on the palate, in a way that’s soft but dense.

This would work great in a lemon tonic highball.

Fernet Hunter Yotei - Review 

Yotei comes from the name of an inactive volcano in Hokkaido, Japan - Mount Yotei. The Fernet Hunter Yotei edition makes use of lavender sourced from, you guessed it, Mount Yotei. The rest of the Fernet Hunter recipe stays intact.

  

Tasting Notes

Aroma: Noticeably more punchy here, more pronounced herbaceous scents.

Taste: The lavender comes through more here, layered on a sweet syrupy base.

Finish: Very aromatic, more of those essential oils vibes.

 

My Thoughts

This was very nice and approachable, on the nose it’s quite strong and alittle sharp so it might take some time to get into it, but the palate is straight up really wonderful. The lavender notes are most pronounced here, and it would’ve been an elevated version of the standard Fernet Hunter expression, but that might’ve taken it up alittle too much - the aromas could be more cohesive and rounded. Otherwise, very tasty!

Fernet Hunter Cacao - Review 

This one's a collaboration with Hong Kong's Bar Leone and its star bartender Lorenzo Antinori. As you might've guessed, big focus on cacao here. Gotta say, I love that sick label!

  

Tasting Notes

Aroma: Bittersweet dense cacao nibs, still very aromatic, with a lingering light bitterness. 

Taste: Ooh! Chocolate syrup and bittersweet cacao nibs.

Finish: Earthy coffee notes and then more dark chocolate.

 

My Thoughts 

This was incredibly enjoyable! I really like how much cacao and chocolate is stuffed into this, just so packed to the brim with these delicious dense, darker flavours that come across perfectly on the palate with that thick chocolate syrup.

Straight up my favourite of the lot! I actually find this is great for sipping on its own, but maybe I just like it too much.

Overall 

I found all of Fernet Hunter's expressions incredibly drinkable and while I tried them on their own to really get a sense of what each of them offers, it did strike me that they were each very versatile and quite ready for use in making cocktails or just pouring over some soda - they're all flavour heavy but never overwhelming. I also really appreciated how they don't ever feel too sweet or syrupy, but also unlike your classic Fernet, aren't as sharp or bitter. They've all got a real rounded body that's just right in terms of weight.

Of particular standout for me was the Fernet Hunter Cacao - that was incredibly delicious on its own with such lovely chocolate notes, and also the classic Fernet Hunter expression was incredibly aromatic, it was giving real spa vibes. If you want something very Christmas-y, warm and spiced, the Fernet Hunter Granit would do the job. Else, the Fernet Hunter BC had good blueberry jams on the palate but could definitely pack more weighty blueberry aromas as well, while the Fernet Hunter Yotei was definitely striking but could use more roundedness.

Awesome stuff! Gotta pick up the classic and Cacao for the homebar.

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot