Of FernetPosted: April 6, 2011
Fernet is a digestif, bitter in flavor and dark in color. To me it tastes a little bit like wood with a very slight hint of black licorice. The stuff has a medicinal quality to it (and indeed it was once proscribed as a remedy for cholera). If you mix this liquor with Coca-cola and put it over ice, you get what amounts to the national drink of Argentina. One friend of mine recently told me that he didn’t believe in God but he believed in Fernet. He proceeded to pull from his wallet a small token bearing the visage of one of the founders of the most popular brand, pictured above, Fernet-Branca.
If you walk into the liquor stores of Buenos Aires you’ll find tons of this particular spirit. Fernet has its own aisle at my local CarreFore grocery store. While I don’t buy bottles for myself I will, on occasion at a party or bar, enjoy my own ‘Fernet Coca.”
I sometimes wonder if national alcoholic beverages say something about the culture of a place. Pisco Sours in Chile or Peru, Cuba Libres in Cuba, Aguardiente in Colombia or Ecuador, beer in the U.S. or Germany. If they do, I suppose Fernet-Coca could indicate a number of things about Argentina–the vast immigrant culture (Fernet was first an Italian beverage), the very long late nights of the social (Fernet is a drink best consumed post-dinner, a digestif after all), maybe even their willingness to appropriate and play with the customs and cultures of any who cross into the country (an Argentine-manufactured Italian liquor mixed with an American soft-drink). If I were feeling bold, I might suggest too that ‘bittersweet’ is a particularly good way to describe both the drink and the general phenomenological status of the porteño.
If nothing else the Fernet-Coca is one more idiosyncrasy of Argentina. It lets you know where you are when you’re here. And so, lift your glasses readers, filled with the drink of your own fine homelands. May I say ‘Salud!’ to a little cross-cultural imbibing.