A beverage with a bitter divide

bar in Rome ItalyWhat do Italy, Argentina and San Francisco have in common? Their love of Fernet! But what is it about this curious concoction that has global appeal (or abhor)? We sent Intrepid’s Jacqueline Donaldson to find out more about this distinctly different beverage…

“This dark, bitter, aromatic liqueur is a grape-based digestive, that was first promoted as a tonic in Milan in 1845 by the self-taught apothecary, Bernardino Branca. While the recipe is a closely guarded secret, some of the 40 herbs, spices, resins and fungi include myrrh, chamomile, saffron, aloe, rhubarb and cardamom.

Fernet has been described as tasting like Vick’s Vaporub or “the liquor of hell itself”. And one unknown source said drinking it was “like being punched in the nose while sucking on a mentholated cough drop.” But some people must like it, as it has almost cult status in Italy. Maybe because it’s touted as a hangover cure and drunk as the famed caffé corretto (an espresso with a dash of Fernet) by a weary throng of people heading to work. That and it being great for helping pasta-fuelled indigestion.

The wave of Italian immigrants to Argentina during the 1800s inevitably bought Fernet with them and it has been drunk as a digestive by its population ever since. It is said that during the Falkland War in 1982 Fernet had a big resurgence and is now found served with Coke in bars all over the country and is considered Argentina’s national drink.

In San Francisco it is mostly drunk as a shot, chased down with a glass of ginger ale. But it’s fast becoming the darling of the San Francisco bar scene with more and more cocktails being made using this contentious liquor, which often supplants the traditional Angostura bitters. One bit of useless trivia is that Fernet was one of the only legal liquors during America’s Prohibition due to it being classed as a medicine.

The best-known Fernet is the original Fernet Branca, but there are now around seven major makers of Fernet around the world and supposedly homemade Fernet will be the next new craze. If you’re heading to any one of these amazing destinations in the near future, why not try this infamous drink and judge this contentious concoction for yourself!”

Ever tried a local beverage that left a very memorable taste?

* photo by Sasha Cunningham – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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We were in Argentina recently where Fernet and Coke is very popular. I tried Fernet neat and it is disgusting! Mixed with Coke it is just about palatable. I guess it is one of those must try things, but I won’t be drinking any more!

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