Photo: MrKornFlakes (Getty Images)
Mariano Aguerre is a U.S. Polo Hall of Fame inductee. He was a 10 goaler for many years (only 10 active players in the world have that rating right now). He’s one of top ten players in the world in the last decade. And, like his teammates and rivals, he drinks Fernet-Branca. You might wonder why in the high-stakes world of professional polo, the go-to drink isn’t Gatorade or high-quality H20.
What is Fernet-Branca?
For those unaware, Fernet-Branca is an Italian amaro. But it’s so much more than that. “Fernet-Branca is an aromatic blend of 27 herbs, spices & roots from 4 continents, slowly matured in oak casks,” says Count Edoardo Branca, the sixth-generation of Fratelli Branca.
The spirit was created in Italy in 1845 and is still privately owned with 100 percent ownership by the Branca Family. “Fratelli Branca Distillerie was founded by Bernardino Branca and his three sons when they started producing a bitter herbal liqueur through a secret formula that has remained such for 171 years,” says Branca.
We should point out that during matches, professional polo players definitely aren’t getting sauced on Fernet. The reference to Gatorade was merely a joke. This isn’t the whiskey-swilling 2004 “Cowboy Up” Boston Red Sox after all. Polo is a gentleman’s game. Fernet-Branca is the preferred after match drink of players like Aguerre.
Aguerre currently holds an 8-handicap rating in the U.S. and has played for the White Birch Farm team since 1987, based in Greenwich, Connecticut, as well as professionally in his home country of Argentina.
A History in Argentina
But it isn’t the U.S. where the love for Fernet-Branca can be found (although it’s popular in the bartending community). It’s the South American country where the drink is king. “Fernet Branca is probably the most consumed alcoholic beverage in Argentina,” says Aguerre.
There’s a reason why Argentinians love Fernet-Branca and it’s because the amaro has been entrenched in the country since 1870 when the Societa Fratelli Branca decided to send an employee to Buenos Aires. “He was tasked with making the product known overseas and, all being well, to create the conditions for establishing a market in Argentina,” says Branca.
“Branca’s hopes were pinned on the growing number of Italian immigrants present in Argentina, and on the great popularity of Fernet-Branca in Italy and in Europe,” he says. “The outcome of the mission went beyond the company’s expectation.”
Polo and Fernet
This history is why Polo players (and Argentinians in general) enjoy Fernet on its own as well as in a cocktail combined with cola. “I think that mixing it with Coke makes it tasty and balances the bitter flavors of the Fernet-Branca while mellowing the sweet taste of the Coke,” says Aguerre.
So, we understand the appeal of Fernet and cola, but why the link to polo? “The connection with polo I think is that people who live and work around ranches and farms consume it,” says Aguerre.
The other big connection is that Fernet-Branca itself presented the drink as a great after polo beverage. “Ever since then, polo and Fernet have been linked,” he says. “We’ve drunk it out of many championship cups in Argentina and the U.S., most recently when we won the East Coast Open with White Birch Audi team at Greenwich Polo Club.”
Much of the appeal for the drink is that it can be enjoyed as an aperitif (before a meal), as a digestive (after a big meal to help digestion) or as a cocktail. It’s a tradition enjoyed by adults of all ages.