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 palette 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 whiskey 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.
Avid drinkers have remained faithful to one brand in particular, the Italian ‘Branca’, for generations. But competition is on the horizon.
A new Argentine brand, ‘Fernet 1882’, was released two years ago in Córdoba and has been distributed throughout the country during the past year, with its most recent debut in Buenos Aires this June. The Argentine brand, made by liquor company Porta Hermanos, aims to draw success through nationalistic pride for the drink, perhaps tapping into the Falklands spirit of yesteryear. Finally, a fernet made for Argentines by Argentines themselves.
However, religious fernet drinkers may need convincing that this brand is better.
Fernet 1882 is made to taste better with coke (the Argentine way), and in blind taste tests, most participants favour Fernet 1882, proving to Branca loyalists that there is another option.
Fernet 1882’s strategy is to appeal to young drinkers through humour and creativity. The marketing department has created art exhibitions to capture people’s attention, as well as a set of commercials involving pop animation, modern music and quirky offbeat humour. The ad campaigns aim to appeal to the absurdity of young Córdoba humor; the marketing team filled Córdoba’s main street La Cañada with 1,882 blue metallic dolphin balloons in July 2007, which drew massive attention from the media, tourists and even Córdoba residents.
Thirty-eight year old Buenos Aires native Astrid Perkins, who lived in Córdoba for four years, supports this marketing strategy. “We Argentines are extremely emotional and passionate people. It has to do with our Italian heritage. So, emotions and humour are the goals (of the advertisements). This creates fidelity to the brand.” These advertisements are nothing like anyone has ever seen, which ensures 1882’s future success and sends a loud message throughout Argentina that Fernet 1882 could soon be new king.