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.