Fernet y Cola, unofficial drink of Buenos Aires
Tales of the Cocktail whisked us by bus to a ranch just outside the city for a welcome asado (Spanish for barbecue). Argentina is the world's biggest consumer of Fernet, so the first drink of the day was the country's most popular drink: Fernet & Coke.
But it wasn't all Fernet y Cola. Buenos Aires bartender Daniel Biber created an aperitif cocktail called the Dame Lorraine, made with Angostura 7 year dark rum, Chandon sparkling rosé, orange marmalade, Angostura bitters, and a spritz of Black Grouse scotch. It was balanced and light, with just the right bitterness to set the stage for the main event: the asado.
Asado at Estancia la Alameda
While the drinks were good, the food stole the show. Short ribs were smoked next to the open fire and were offered alongside grilled sausages and beef. I smelled like barbecue the whole day, and I liked it.
Argentine Folk Dancing
After the food, there was an elaborate folk dancing show.
Daniyel Jones, winner of the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge, mixed up a post-barbecue drink called Bitter Love, made with Angostura 5 year gold rum, Disaronno Amaretto, Angostura bitters, lemon, rich simple syrup and egg white.
The Tales events took place at the same time as an annual race in Buenos Aires where hundreds of servers speed-walked through the city streets carrying trays of drinks. None of them stopped to give me one, however.
The next day was full of seminars ... and the seminars were full of cocktails. The focus was on sharing US cocktail ingredients, history and techniques with Buenos Aires cocktail enthusiasts. I started the day getting educated about how gin is made and sipping classic gin cocktails. My favorite was the Clover Club, made with Hendrick's gin, Martini Bianco, lemon, raspberry syrup and egg white. Gin for breakfast!
Tiki Drinks from A to Zombie
Jeff "Beachbum" Berry gave a thorough history of tiki along with a healthy sampling of tiki cocktails. We can't get Havana Club rum here in the US, but it was flowing freely in Buenos Aires and added an excellent bold flavor to the seminar's cocktails.
The highlight of the tiki cocktails was called Dr. Funk—a mix of rum, absinthe and lime with a bit of grenadine and soda.
Asado infused bourbon
Mike Ryan and Don Lee geeked out in their seminar on the science of cocktails, complete with dozens of charts, formulas and intricate experiments. They actually took some fat from the previous day's barbecue and infused it into some bourbon, which gave the bourbon a really subtle smoky flavor without taking over and hiding the oak-and-honey side of the spirit.
The surprisingly balanced smoky yet sweet asado-infused bourbon made for a complex Manhattan that lingered on the palate.
After a day of seminars that focused on US cocktail trends, I was happy that the evening tango party was all about the cocktails of Buenos Aires. The best drink of the night, and one of the city's most popular according to all the bartenders I talked to, is the Cynar Julep, which uses Cynar, grapefruit, fresh mint and brown sugar for a twist on the bourbon-based classic.
In Buenos Aires, the trend is to take a classic cocktail and reinvent it using Italian bitter liqueurs. With the Cynar Julep you get the freshness of a mint julep with a bitter kick and less heat and intensity.
Argentina is well known for its local wines, so it's natural that cocktail bartenders would try to bring the two worlds together and create wine-based cocktails, which are pleasantly low in alcohol. This drink, called the Italian Vineyard, is a light and fruity red-wine cocktail accented with Aperol, orange juice, and a bit of Prosecco.
Buenos Aires bartenders know their way around intense bitter ingredients. The Manolito is mostly Campari, with a little tonic and pineapple syrup and some blueberries and pineapple thrown in for a balanced mixture of sweet, sour, and bitter.
After a night of bitter Buenos Aires cocktails, brunch was filled with classic New Orleans drinks like Milk Punch, made with bourbon, vanilla, sugar and nutmeg.
Ramos Gin Fizz
I suspect the Ramos Gin Fizz will start making appearances at Buenos Aires bars because it was by far the most popular brunch cocktail with the bartenders.
Since the theme of the brunch was New Orleans, there were of course Sazeracs. They used Glenfiddich instead of a Cognac, which gave it a hint of smokiness. My high school Spanish is pretty rusty, but I think I overheard two bartenders saying they were going to make a version of the Sazerac that used a Fernet Branca rinse instead of the traditional absinthe, Herbsaint or Pernod.
It's still all about the Fernet
Buenos Aires is a giant city, so bar-hopping was a bit of a challenge. After Cynar Juleps at 878 and coffee cocktails at Isabel, it was time to stop hopping and settle down with a Fernet y Cola. It grows on you.