Alcoholic beverages, like everything else, go through cycles of popularity. Here in Buenos Aires, fernet has been a constant throughout just about every alcoholic fad, though. While American foodies and hipsters have exploited fernet as a symbol of their superiority to the rest of the ignorant Bud-Light-chugging population, here in Argentina, fernet is a staple at any party, asado or social gathering. I’m not much of a fan of hard alcohol, but a good fernet con coca is my go-to beverage when it’s too late to drink wine and I’m planning on going out on the town. It’s great, because when I go back to the U.S. ordering fernet is like announcing that you are classy and sophisticated to the rest of the bar. The bartender will smile and wink like, “Oh, yeah. You know what’s up.” Little do they know I am just a big baby whose eyes well up with tears if she so much as smells tequila, vodka or rum.
So it’s a win-win situation. In Argentina fernet is everywhere, and in the U.S., if I manage to find it I impress everyone with my exotic and high-class taste. Obviously Americans would never assume that we drink fernet out of decapitated liters of Coke here, but there’s no reason to ruin their fantasy about its classiness, because it is magical, gives no hangovers, cures menstrual cramps and is apparently somehow good for your liver.
Lately, however, fernet’s little brothers and sister aperitifs like Cynar, Aperol, Campari and Cinzano (and even the left-wing activist, black sheep of the family, Amargo Obrero) have been making a big comeback. These drinks have been gathering dust on your grandparents’ shelves for years, so why are they resurfacing now? In terms of taste, they are all delicate and relatively light, easy to mix with other liquors and even with each other. In terms of their price tag, import restrictions have made importing similar liquors like Jägermeister difficult, and these alternatives, many of which are now being produced domestically, are affordable.
The most salient characteristic of all of these brands is the marketing behind them, however. In deciding to produce in a country whose people have enjoyed the beverages for decades, they have taken advantage of the fact that it’s easy to market nostalgia – Argentina’s strong Italian roots have embraced the idea of drinking something steeped in tradition, and there is nothing modern about any of the ad campaigns, despite the huge differences between life in Argentina today vs. the 1950’s.
Campari was first produced in the early 1860’s in Milan by a man named Gaspare Campari. The factory doesn’t reveal the herbal recipe behind it, but it apparently contains alcohol, sugar, distilled water and an infusion of oranges and rhubarb. Interesting factoid — Campari is produced with an alcohol content of 28.5% for the European market, while in America, they make it at 24%.
The Campari Group has invested over 100 million dollars to buy 12 different brands of alcohol, a few of which are listed here, so they are kind of the Coca Cola of aperitifs. Their logo has become a sort of symbol of cool – not only appearing in bars, but in clothing stores and music venues, and they make sure to sponsor events whose activities represent the kind of person they want consuming their brand.The result is a marketing strategy that sells the concept of the smooth talking “dandy” who “conquers” all aspects – social, professional and romantic – of his life. Argentine machismo at its best.
Cynar was first produced in Italy in 1952, and is named after one if it’s key ingredients: artichoke! Yes, cynara is Latin for artichoke. Now produced in Argentina as a proud member of the Campari Group, and can substitute sweet vermouth in drinks like the Manhattan. It contains a measly 13 herbs and plants (it’s got nothin’ on Fernet’s 27). Cynar has also become higher in sugar content in the past ten years, which we can probably attribute to the fact that people were just more badass in the 1950’s than we are now. Just like many of fernet’s little siblings, it’s low in alcohol content with 16.5%.
Aperol was originally produced in 1919 in Padua, Italy. Campari bought the brand in the 90’s, but it had been popular since World War II. It contains rhubarb, gentian, orange and cinchona. Containing only 11% alcohol, it is one of the least alcoholic aperitifs on the market – but this means it mixes well with other flavors and liquors.
Cinzano is an Italian vermouth with four varieties – Rosso, Bianco, Extra Dry and Rose, whose flavors vary slightly by sweetness and dryness. Brothers Giovanni Giacomo and Carlo Stefano Cinzano founded the brand in Turin, Italy in 1757, and became popular with the Italian immigration wave to Argentina in the 1920s. The popular expression “cin cin” (or “chin chin“) – a way of saying “cheers” in Italian that is regularly utilized by Argentines, all began when the phrase appeared on Cinzano advertising posters.
Saving the best for last, Amargo Obrero is definitely the rebellious sibling of the family. It is the only in this family that originates from Argentina, and was originally produced in Rosario in 1887. Amargo Obrero has been associated with the pueblo since its inception. It’s for the common folk, the immigrants that built the country and the pride in the labor they put into this land. It’s often associated with the Peronist movement. All you’ve got to do is look at the label to understand what they were going for here.
Amargo Obrero is marketed as the most popular and national drink in Argentina. The marketing behind it, and all of these brands, really, creates an identity for the drinks and the people who drink them. Amargo Obrero has done a great job at marketing itself as the drink of the pueblo, which, in turn, attracts hipsters, foreigners and people looking to feel like they belong to something that makes you feel like you have traditional and selective taste at the same time. This vintage and traditional appeal is present in the marketing concepts of all of these brands. Cinzano used the slogan “Not everything has changed” from 2006-2008, asserting that the essence of el hombre has and always will remain the same, despite the fact that we live in an ever-changing, fast-moving world. While Cinzano has yet to make a marketing campaign based on the essence of the Argentine woman, we know it must be on its way!
Machismo jokes aside, Argentina is, without a doubt, used to instability. But if you think about it, it’s no wonder these classy brands cling to what doesn’t change, because let’s face it – we love Argentina because of the traditions it embraces and includes us in as foreigners. When life hands Argentines lemons, they make lemonade (and pour some Aperol in it), and that’s what we love about them.