How the 50/50 Became More Than Just a Shot

The Ferrari, a blend of equal parts Fernet Branca and Campari, has been appearing around the country, both on its own and as a base ingredient for drinks. Jennifer V. Cole on the rise of amaro-based 50/50 shots.

Leave it to a chef-driven bar to take a shot and treat it like a mother sauce.

Chef Ashley Christensen—of Raleigh’s Fox Liquor Bar, Poole’s Diner, Death & Taxes and more—had her first Ferrari shot (equal parts Fernet Branca and Campari) at a now-forgotten bar in New York and realized it was way more delicious than basic Fernet Branca. As a shot, it’s become something of a handshake within a handshake for bartenders, but Christensen wondered how it would fare as an ingredient in cocktails. 

On August 10th, her speakeasy, Fox Liquor Bar, debuted a seven-drink subset of their cocktail list assembled by bartenders John Parra and Kyle Hankin that they call the Autostrada, each drink fueled by the Ferrari. The list runs the gamut from a chilled Ferrari straight from the tap to the tiki-inspired Queen’s New Whip (rum, lime, sugar and mint with a Ferrari float, served over crushed ice) to a Negroni riff called The Black Stallion Sets Sail (blackstrap rum, Ferrari, Cocchi di Torino).

The Ferrari might be a new thing to Raleigh, but composed amaro shots, a.k.a. 50/50s, have been creeping into the bar vernacular since Brooklyn bartender Damon Boelte (then of Prime Meats, now of Grand Army Bar) combined Fernet Branca and Branca Menta to create The Hard Start as a brunch shift hangover remedy. Over a decade ago, Fernet became the bartender’s handshake that took hold in San Francisco and spread throughout the U.S. and beyond; the 50/50 is a natural outcropping of that trend.

In fact, it’s become so popular that Brad Thomas Parsons dedicated a whole section of his new book, Amaro (out October 11th from Ten Speed Press), to these half-and-half shots. Most often, they’re either a mix of spirit-amaro, like the Maserati (mezcal and Ramazzotti) and The Jimbo (Old Overholt rye and Meletti), or amaro-amaro, like the Ferrari or the Nar Nar (Nardini and Cynar) or Parsons’ very own Spaghetti (Strega and Cappelletti Aperitivo Americano).

While each these other 50/50s have their own devotees, the Ferrari has become one of the most beloved. And while it is entirely correct to drink the Ferrari as a shot, the mingling of the two bitter liqueurs makes for an entirely new ingredient that’s perfect for mixing. It’s this sort of tinkering that has Christensen expanding her repertoire of on-tap composed shots, both as stand-alone offerings and new base ingredients for cocktails.

Jennifer V. Cole is a Southern-based food, drink, and travel writer whose work has appeared in Southern Living , Travel + Leisure, The Local Palate, Esquire and more. She hosts regular whiskey nights on her porch in Birmingham, Alabama, and is a fool for an antique bourbon.