”Fernet and Coca Cola is something we drink with amigos. It’s a social thing. The way you drink a beer when you are having a barbecue with friends, we drink Fernet,” says Alex Rober, an Argentinian who lives in New York and is the designated parillero in his círculo of family and friends.
During the summer, when Argentinians gather to eat and drink back home or anywhere in the world, you can bet the food will be asado—Argentina’s famed grill fest when just about every part of the cow meets fire and coal—and the beverages will include the liqueur Fernet.
Many bottles of Malbec vino tinto will also be opened, says Alex. But serving Fernet is a must.
“We drink Fernet antes, durante y después—before, during and after—the asado,” says Alex, who owns a New York City construction and contracting business and has built his own state-of-the-art outdoor parilla in his home.
For the uninitiated, Fernet-Branca is a bitter liqueur that tastes something like Italian amaro. The flavors are: medicinal, herb-y, like biting into the deepest-black licorice in the world. It is intense. And at any proper Argentinian asado for many generations, it’s been a point of national pride to sip Fernet straight in a small glass while the carne is sizzling.
Similarly to Colombians and their aguardiente, Argentinians prescribe a shot of Fernet for what ails you. ”I drink it when I am not feeling well, after an asado, perhaps. The Fernet helps wash down the grease” from all that delicious meat a la parilla, says Alex. (When making asado, we recommend also making this chimichurri family recipe sent to use by Alex’s aunt Marta!)
”Los viejos (the older generations) used to drink it alone, as an aperitif ahead of a big meal.“ And after the asado, to help digest it. ”But it’s a very strong flavor so the young people started mixing it with Coke. Fernet has that bitter taste, and Coke gives it a sweet flavor,” explains Alex.
What was a traditional drinkecito is now a popular cocktail in bars and restaurants throughout Argentina. “The elders used to drink a little cup and the youngsters turned it into a huge glass,” Alex smiles.
Intrigued? Here’s How to Make a Fernet & Coke Cocktail
Photos: Michelle Ezratty Murphy