Fernet in Buenos Aires: Incredibly Foul or a Tasty Delight?

Gringo in Buenos AiresDrink23 Comments

If there’s one Argentinean custom that’s bound to give new arrivals in Buenos Aires a ‘wtf?’ moment, it’s the insane popularity of Fernet + Coke as the go-to mixed drink for any occasion.

More on that soon. But first, what is Fernet anyway? Here’s a description from our good friends at Wikipedia:

“Fernet is a type of amaro, a bitter, aromatic spirit. Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but may include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits, and colored with caramel coloring.”

Now is it me, or is that ingredient list bizarre? If you’d always wondered what in the hell Joseph and Mary were going to use the ‘myrrh’ in ‘gold, frankincense and myrrh’ for, now you know. That just leaves frankincense, but you can probably put that in Fernet as well. It kind of seems like all bets are off. I mean, rhubarb? Come on, that’s just perverse.

So those are the ingredients, now what about the taste? Here’s a quote from SF Weekly, a free alternative weekly newspaper from San Francisco, California:

“If you can imagine getting punched squarely in the nose while sucking on a mentholated cough drop, you’ll have an idea of Fernet-Branca’s indelicate first impressions.”

I’d say that description is spot-on. The thing is, Fernet was created (in Italy) as a digestive to be taken after a meal. In other words, MEDICINE. And we all know that the worse medicine tastes, the better people will think it works. No surprise then, that the creators of Fernet emptied the contents of their spice rack into it.

Or as a friend once told me after tasting Fernet & Cola:

“I feel like I just drank tar off of a hospital floor while simultaneously having a Gorilla slap me across the face with a bottle of Bengay”

Really, Fernet + Coke is a prime example of what happens when people from one place (Italy in this case) move to another place a really long way away (Argentina). They bring their foods, drinks, traditions and so on along with them, but many of those things get mangled in the translation. It’s like people in Australia roasting a turkey for Christmas…in 95+ degree heat.

One thing I can GUARANTEE you is that if you ask an Argentine why they drink Fernet, there’s a 98% chance that they will tell you how healthy it is and how it doesn’t give you a hangover. Sorry, the main cause of a hangover is dehydration caused by alcohol. If you’re getting drunk then you’re getting a hangover, end of story. Anyway, what would Argentineans know about hangovers? They don’t even drink. Ask an Irish person, it’s much more their area of expertise.

Now. Having just ranted about Fernet for a good 400 words, I have an admission to make. I drink Fernet + Coke. If that comes as a surprise, don’t worry, it’s a pretty f-cking massive surprise to me too. So why do I do it? Well, in large part it’s because at the end of the night, there’s usually still Fernet + Coke left at the asado after all the beer, wine and vodka has been drunk, but I think there’s also a small part of me that actually enjoys the challenge of drinking something so foul. And you?

* To any Argentine readers out there, feel free to unleash hell in the comments.

23 Comments on “Fernet in Buenos Aires: Incredibly Foul or a Tasty Delight?”

  1. DaVe

    My vote is for “incredibly foul.” I have not been able to develop a taste for it, and I’ve tried. I even brought a bottle back to the States for my alcoholic friends, and I have to report that most of them could not take it either…

  2. Russ

    You’re going to have to put me in the category of liking it! The first time I tasted it I was with a bunch of friends (from Argentina and England) and there were so enthusiastic about it that I never once doubted that it tasted bad. I’m not sure it’s an alcohol that I would choose to buy, over other options, but it’s certainly one I am more than happy to raise to my lips and get a little bit tipsy with!

  3. Sabri

    with a good mix of coke and fernet i like to down it myself. dunno why though! xD

  4. In Spirits

    A porteno friend told me last week that Fernet Cola is something you never like on the first cup: you have to keep drinking A LOT, and eventually it will come to you.

    Why the hell would I do that with so many tasteful drinks around, I don’t know. But in the end it’s all about tastes. People that enjoy bitters should get along with fernet.

    All the best!
    Geraldo Figueras

  5. monte

    fernet mmmm… mientras mas lo tomas mas te gusta 60-40 2 hielos…asado con los amigos,argentina rompiendola en el mundial..que mas queres…. nice blog u got there!

  6. Fabiàn

    Fernet is a digestif, is a good thing for the stomach if you ate too much.

    Also , is a good idea to try FERNET CON TÒNICA , instead of a gin tonic, try Fernet with (bitter)dry tonic water in a tall glass with ice cubes

    At least, in Uruguay we usually drink the Fernet with tonic water,and it makes a thick foam, very good for digestion,or as a long drink while one waits his girlfriend and she always arrive late….ha ha ha

  7. Rai

    The first time I tried “ferné con coca” I was 14 and I couldn’t believe how people where buying it and threw away what I had just bought.
    The second time I drank ferné+coca I did it because there was nothing else to drink and then I figured it out. Once you had a glass of fernet+coca, the second one you have tastes great, the third one even better and so on. I still think it has a weird taste but the way your mouth tastes after drinking ferné is actually great.
    I’ll keep on drinking beer, but sometimes fernecola is a good alternative.

  8. Ana

    HAhahahah I LOLed at this one!! I am argentinean, and I’ve HATED fernet + coke for a long time, but I love it now. It is actually my drink of choice when going out with friends, to a club, or at asados. I started enjoying it at around 24 yrs old, so I was a little embarassed to finally admit I liked it. BUt hey, the same happened to me when I started drinking alcohol, I remember trying beer or wine for the first time and going “OMG how do you guys (my parents) enjoy drinking this? WTF!”

  9. guadalupe

    es que al fenet te lo tiene que preparar un cordobes y ahi te va a gustar

  10. Fleder

    Another Fernet drinker here… It’s not a drink you will like on your first taste.

    About the hangover, when I drink Fernet the hangover is really more soft than the hangover from other drinks (beer, wine)

  11. Frase

    I’m currently living in Cordoba, the fernet capital of the world, I hated the first glass but it soon became my favorite drink….perseverance is the key

  12. xdxxxxd

    You’re an idiot for saying argentines don’t drink. You obviously haven’t gone to Argentina. If you’re ignorant, please don’t talk.

  13. Matias


    No need to be so agressive, he was being sarcastic. And you should check the name and content of the site… it’s rather obvious he’s been in Argentina.
    Pedazo de pelotudo, forro e imbecil!

    See? i can do it too! The only difference between you and me is that i’m an argentinian who can actually speak in english.
    Seriously, stop trolling and go fuck yourself. You give us argentinians a bad reputation.

  14. Cami

    I laughed throughout the whole text, but still I cannot believe the content of this post, like, seriously, fernet+coke is one of the things I enjoy the most in life. On the ingredients front, you’re right, it is just ridiculous to even read all that ingredients together, no doubt about drinking it. But IRL there are very few things that taste as good, for serious. I have to admit though, I didn’t like it a bit the first few times I had it, but now I’m really into and reaally used to it.

    I also do not agree on the ‘hangover’ part. I’m argentinean, and avoiding the hangover has never been the reason I drink fernet at all, and you DO get hangovers by drinking fernet (sometimes) so I really don’t know why that would be the reason for drinking it to anyone. Also, some argentineans do drink A LOT. I don’t know many irish people, but I know they drink a lot, still, I also know none of them would say that in Argentina we don’t even drink. Maybe we don’t drink the same amount of beer (cause, as you pointed out in another one of your posts, cheap beer here is crap and to have a lot of the good ones can be really expensive) but we do drink lots of other things, all of them with higher alcoholic graduation (have you ever, for instance, been to Cordoba? People there drink gallons of fernet, just like if it were water or something)

    Finally, I think the trick about fernet is that it provides a sense of joy no other beverage brings along, if you see a group of friends drinking wine, they’re probably just talking sitting away from each other, while groups of people drinking fernet are usually dancing/socializing and generally singing and hugging, so, just like ‘mate’, it is not a good a ritual if you don’t do it with friends.

    Also, ice is a MUST.

  15. Martin

    hahaha well that’s fernet, you love it or you hate it, there’s no such thing ass a middle point, i’m lucky to be in the “love it” side 😛

  16. Rease

    Ahhh I freaking HATE fernet. I have lived in Buenos Aires for a year and a half and I have tried to like it but I just cannot. i think the descriptions you gave are spot-on.

    However, I have also been known to drink free fernet con coca if I have no other options!

  17. Ryan

    I’m with you, Gringo. All signs point to disliking an herbal, medicinal-tasting drink, but I just can’t shake it. At first, it was the novelty of it. Now, I dig the Gorilla slap.

  18. Pingback: First few days in Argentina | scarletinstancesofwanderlust

  19. Illya

    well I like fernet,with or without coke… I’m argentinian with polish-ukranian-italian ascendence… they know about hangovers like hell, and I’m with you in the “If you’re getting drunk then you’re getting a hangover, end of story.” part haha. Hell if I know that

  20. Javi

    Fernet is a must in BA. As Argentinians, we feel the need to make you guys try it at least once….Alright, I must admit I kinda enjoy seeing people’s reaction to drinking “Fernando” for the first time, but it turns out to be a great ice breaker! haha

    As Rai said, you don’t always get why people love Fernet at the first try, it’s more of an acquired taste. But once you got it, its awesome 😀

    Also, remember the 3 Step rule in the Fernet drinking experience:
    -First sip: WTFF
    -2nd one: This is uber-bitter stuff
    -3rd try: Damn. I love this!

    Oh, and by the way, don’t be scared by the ingredients and color of Fernet. If you have ever drank Jägermeister (another herbal liquor) you already got an idea of its taste.

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