Milan urban railway tour: Collezione Branca Museum
Not just a brand but a great Italian story and a wonderful place to visit in Milan
by Roxana Iacoban
Having said goodbye to Mr Roberto and the beautiful Certosa Church in Garegnano, we headed back to the suburban railway station at the Certosa stop and took the train towards Lancetti stop. Another option would have been the BikiMI bike sharing service (yellow for normal bikes and red for electric ones), but due to the bad weather we went for the so called Passante Ferroviario. I was really excited about this visit because of my background in business and because of my love for Italy and the made in Italy. I knew about Branca-Fernet as it is an internationally well known liquor brand, but I had no idea that in Milan there is an entire Museum dedicated to the greatness of this company.
After getting off at the Lancetti stop, using our now familiar VisitMilano app, we walked about 200 metres and there we were in Via Resegone. We spotted the Branca Logo on the side of this old building that resembled a factory. “A factory downtown of Milano?”, I thought. It had a vintage look to it, so I wasn’t at all expecting to see a lot of activity in there. We met Gianfranco and his wife at the reception, and my attention was immediately caught by the commercial adds dating back to 100 years ago on the walls of the entrance hall. I thought I had seen those before somewhere. Marco Ponzano and Fabio Podestà welcomed us soon and were to guide us through the whole museum. I was very curious to learn more about what was so special about this company and how was it different to other multinational companies.
Discover the Collezione Branca Museum
We were welcomed inside the museum but what laid ahead of us didn’t seem at all like a museum to me. In my lattest traveling years I tended to avoid the typical museums, because anonymous and frivolous most of the times. I always preferred some local person telling me about the place I visit to a museum. Well, The Collezione Branca Museum feels like a home, cozy and warm, unlike any museum I have ever seen. Of course the guide helped giving it a familiar touch. Marco is an incredibly charismatic guide and very good at giving insights and also telling visitors curiosities about the company and its long lasting history. You could see a sense of pride in his eyes when talking about this company and I immediately understood that it is a sort of company where everyone feels part of something, contributing to the well being of it and at the same time feeling protected and by it and always proud to be a part of it.
As I learnt from Marco, the history of Branca-Fernet dated back to 1845, when Bernardino Branca together with a mysterious Swedish apothecary called Fernet, came up with the liquor that was to fight against malaria and cholera. So initially a medicine that saved thousands of lives, a liquor made of tons of spices and herbs, became thanks to the Branca brothers and the generations to come in years what we see today: a trendy high quality liquor consumed all over the world in different ways. While in Italy people drink it as a digestive, after dinner, in Argentina it is absolutely loved in a combination with Coca Cola, therefore a long drink, at happy hours.
Aware of the impact it already had worldwide and its success, they called in famous artists to work on the logos and the adds. In 1893, Leopoldo Metlicovitz came up with the most recognizable logo: the eagle that grabs the globe with its claws. The eagle was a sign of strength and the fact that it held the globe, it symbolized its international success and presence. What really surprised me was the fact that although a family owned company, Branca-Fernet didn’t start as a small company, but it had over 300 employees right away, after which it become bigger and bigger. We took a long stroll along the museum corridors and on both sides we could admire the original tools used in production, the reproduction of 1800’s offices, the original logos and illustrations of different periods to nowadays, the different spices, the uniforms of the various employees and the collection of the bottles (both original and fake). I thought that the fact that there are shelves where all the fakes are kept and exposed as genious, because only the best have the priviledge of being imitated.
Branca doesn’t only make the amaro, but also grappa, the Borghetti liquor, Branca Menta, Vermouth, Brandy, and others. What I found unique and quite rare nowadays compared to other companies, is the fact that despite its huge production and international distribution, Branca remained a family owned company that still respects the made in Italy brand and the original recipès and high quality ingredients. It is hard to remain uncontaminated when you reach those high numbers and demands, not only production wise but also value wise. It seemed like Branca was able to preserve the shared values of the company and spread them throughout its employees. I finally got a chance to have a taste of the Branca liquor when we reached the Bar. Marco guided us through the tasting process and we had it in 3 sips. But I won’t reveal too much, you should try it out yourselves!
We then went downstairs, to see the production process, the packaging, the bottling and labeling. Too bad words can’t transmit scents, but if I close my eyes I can still smell all those perfumes: from the spices and herbs of the Branca liquor, to the sweet honey like scent of the brandy, and the coffe like one of Borghetti. A feast for our senses! I could go on and on for a lot more, but I don’t want to spoil it for you guys! All I can say is that it is definitely worth visiting because of its uniqueness: an almost 200 year old liquor factory in the heart of Milan! We finally said goodbye to Marco and Fabio who gave us a book on the amazing history of the Branca company and warmly shook our hands goodbye. It was hard coming out to the real life after this fable like excursus.
But another place was waiting for us: The Santa Maria della Fontana Sanctuary. (to be continued…)