Fernet frontrunner: Liquid Riot taps into metro drinking-Renaissance trend

The folks at Liquid Riot Bottling Co. are making history: they’ve produced the first fernet in the state. If you’re not familiar with fernet, it’s an Italian type of amaro liquor, commonly used as a digestive and described as bitter and herbal. Liquid Riot’s Fernet Michaud, however, goes down smoothly. You can easily taste notes of many of the 22 herbs and botanicals used to create it, most notably in the minty finish. It’s also got a distinctly Maine touch, as it’s aged in Maine blueberry wine barrels.

Liquid Riot owner Eric Michaud said the idea to create the 82-proof fernet came from his time traveling in Europe, where drinking is ingrained in social tradition.

“It’s not frowned upon … you have some of this liquor at the end of a meal, as a digestive, and it helps you feel better and it’s just part of the culture,” Michaud said. “And so I want to try to bring that here.”

According to Michaud, fernet is also becoming trendy in metropolitan areas.

“I didn’t see anyone else doing it, and fernet is pretty hip right now,” he said. “It’s definitely hip in the big cities that have a strong cocktail Renaissance, and I feel like Portland is part of that scene.”

The road to actually being allowed to produce and sell fernet, however, was a rocky one. Michaud said that federal and state regulations sometimes restrict creativity in the distilled spirits industry, and that fernet didn’t fit into any of the government’s “boxes.” After a period of back and forth with the feds, though, Michaud was given the green light. This was great news for Liquid Riot customers, who seem to enjoy the new product so much so that Michaud is considering expanding and entering the Boston and New York City markets.

Meanwhile, Liquid Riot is enjoying prosperity, despite the name change (it was previously called In’finiti), which still has some customers confused as to what exactly Liquid Riot is.

“People try to group us into something. They say, ‘Okay, well you’re a brew pub,’ so they expect a typical brew pub experience,” Michaud said. “Other people think it’s just a distillery … and some people just treat it as a regular restaurant, and they expect certain things out of a restaurant.”

Michaud wants customers to realize that Liquid Riot encompasses all of these areas, but is not specifically tied to any one of them. It’s a place where alcohol, alcohol tasting and dining meet.

In addition to the name change, the layout, now consisting of an open area, changed to make things more convenient for staff members and more comfortable for customers, Michaud said. Previously, an upper deck area sectioned off part of the room and many customers felt it was an area for dining only. The open layout brings the space together, and has more of a tasting room feel.

The menu, too, has changed but, then again, it’s constantly changing. The goal is to always be in flux and always experimenting with new dishes, all of which are made in-house, Michaud said. Currently, the most popular items are the burger, which Michaud said “fly out the door,” and the soft pretzel.

“We’ve had it (the pretzel) from day one, and we probably always will,” Michaud said.

In terms of beer, IPAs are the most popular. In fact, Michaud’s current favorite is “What’s in the Box?, a double IPA.

However, Michaud said that he tries to write recipes that span the beer spectrum, resulting in over 16 beers on tap.

“If you like beer, we should be able to find a beer for you,” Michaud said.

Diners can experience the wonders of Liquid Riot during Maine Restaurant Week, which is really two weeks, March 1-12. For $25, customers have access to a special, three-course tasting menu, with the option to pair beer or cocktails with their meals.

“We’re the only restaurant that can pair house-made food with house-made alcohol,” Michaud said. “We’re the only ones that make everything.”


For more about Liquid Riot, visit http://liquidriot.com.