The Fernet Challenge

FERNETDelicious disco drink or disgusting liquid earwax? Lauren Sanne tests the Argentine fascination with Fernet Branca

They drink it in bucketfuls with lashings of Coca Cola (it must be Coca Cola) and mountains of ice. Stand in any late night bar or disco and you´ll see the locals indulging in a dark drink that looks like a flat Guinness. Fernet is the drink of choice for all young fun loving Argentines, which is strange considering this Italian herbal type drink was originally meant to be a civilized digestive liquor to sip in your slippers after a large meal and help your food settle.

Fernet is a profound part of Argentine culture and a huge boost to Coca-Cola sales, making Argentines the biggest consumers of that soda brand in the World. Mexico and Chile are distant runner ups. Fernet on the other hand was never patented by its Italian inventors so there are now multiple brands with huge differences in price. One can imagine that locals are very particular about how they drink their fernet and what specific fernet they drink. The hands-down favorite type of the liqour is the original – Branca. Everyone you ask on the street will agree that Branca is as good as it gets when it comes to the prized beverage. And most seasoned drinkers will claim that they can tell the difference between the brands. The crew at Wine Republic decided to put this claim to the test with The Fernet Challenge.

We took to the street to find out the truth – is there really a difference in the taste between different types of fernet? Aristedes Villanueva is a happening bar street in Mendoza with a lively crowd, even on a Thursday. We walked up and down and challenged men, women, Argentines and foreigners to decipher the difference between three types of fernet with coke. The offer of free fernet caused a stampede and the Wine Republic trio of girls found themselves with some volunteer bodyguards who seemed happy with the occasional shot of the black stuff.

In the end, the Argentines could tell the difference between their top fernet brand, Branca and the competitors. Argentine females did slightly better than males, and foreign females could not decipher the dirt-like flavors at all. Argentines in general lived up to their promise that there is one unmistakeable superior fernet, Branca; and when put to the test, they stay loyal to their brand. Cheers to that.