Absinthe in Central and South America

Absinthe was drunk in South America from at least the 1850’s. It was manufactured in Cuba, in Mexico and in Argentina, and probably also in Brazil. In the early years of the twentieth century it was fashionable amongst the same type of literary and Bohemian crowd who drank it in Paris.

Spanish version: Ajenjo Berger. Found recently in Buenos Aires, it seems to have been made for the Argentinean market.

Another label of South American interest: Pernod Fils label for Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Case label for an Argentinean Swiss-style absinthe, produced by the Arbide distillery, owned by Juan & Domingo Parellada.
The following information was kindly provided by Oscar Vicario, the great grandson of one of the proprietors:
“Domingo Parellada was my great grand-father, he married Margueritte Nodenot, a Frenchwoman who arrived in Argentina in 1889 with her family. They had two daughters, Juana and Josefina. Juana was my grandmother on my mother’s side. This explains why I happen to have some information, rather poor in fact. The distillery was a small one, and it was not in the city of Buenos Aires, but in the town of Rosario, about 300 kilometers north of the capital city. The address was Moreno 237, and the telephone number: 62. I don’t think the label mentioned dates back to 1890, because the distillery was set up later, probably around 1902, and was in operation until 1914, when the Parellada brothers decided to close it down. My great-grandfather retired and moved back to Spain, his birthplace. Besides Ajenjo Arbide, they produced liqueurs, Aperitif Parellada and “Ginebra uso de Holanda” (a sort of gin in the Dutch style). In 1916, my great-grandfather and his family returned to Argentina because of the First World War, and he died in 1920”.

Latin American poets like Darío inspired a whole generation of Argentinean tango composers to try absinthe in Paris. Not a few of these tangueros wrote songs praising – or condemning – the drink. Here’s a typical example:

Copa de ajenjo

Suena tango compañero, suena que quiero cantar porque esta noche la espero y sé que no ha de llegar. Y en esta copa de ajenjo en vano pretendo mis penas ahogar Suena tango compañero, suena que quiero llorar. Pensar que la quise tanto y embrujao por sus encantos hoy perdí la dignidad. Soy un borracho perdido que en la copa del olvido busca su felicidad. Son caprichos del destino, que lo quiso una mujer, si está marcado mi sino quién sabe si ha de volver… ¡Pero yo la esperaré! Suena tango compañero, como una recordación. Si lloro porque la quiero, son cosas del corazón. Sirva otra copa de ajenjo que a nadie le importa si quiero tomar. Porque esta noche la espero y sé que no ha de llegar.

The Cup of Absinthe

Play, tango, my friend play, that I want to sing because tonight I’m waiting for her and I know she won’t come. And in this cup of absinthe I vainly expect to drown my sorrows Play, tango, my friend, play, that I want to cry. To think that I loved her so much and bewitched by her charms today my dignity is gone. I’m a total drunkard that looks for happiness in oblivion’s cup. Destiny’s whims, a woman’s caprices, it may be in my fate that she’ll return… But I’ll wait! Play, tango, my friend as a remembrance. If I cry because I love her those are things of the heart. Pour me another cup of absinthe nobody cares if I want to drink. Because tonight I expect her and I know she won’t appear.

Advertising carton for Ajenjo Arbide.