Argentines are known to be proud people who hold their traditions sacred. But as a first-time fernet drinker, don’t expect to fall in love with this cultural phenomenon right away. It takes an experienced palate to truly enjoy this bitter herbal spirit, but those with an acquired taste for fernet can’t get enough.
Bitter and addictive, fernet is made with 40-50 types of herbs and the taste will shock the virgin tongue. But despite most first-time drinkers saying it reminds them of bitter medicine, the beverage has been the symbol of friendship and social gathering in Argentina since the 1800s. The drink’s original purpose was to cleanse the system after a heavy meal or rid the body of contaminants in the water. During the 19th century Italian immigrants would routinely take a shot of the spirit after dinner, and young Argentine descendents then adopted the drink as a party favourite.
The drink became hugely popular amongst university students in Córdoba during the Falkland Islands conflict with Britain in 1982, when students boycotted British whisky in favour of fernet to reflect their nationalism. Since then, a craze for fernet has taken over Argentina, with Córdoba consuming over 90% of the world’s supply of the tipple. Unlike their ancestors, modern drinkers mix fernet with coke, employing the ‘90210’ recipe (90% coke, 2 ice cubes, 10% fernet per glass). This Argentine method makes the drink much more tolerable and, dare I say, enjoyable.