Hallelujah Cocktail

A day to toast Panama

Your cocktail calendar entry for: January
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Here at the Drunkard’s Almanac January 28 is our own Panama Day and we’ll be mixing the Hallelujah cocktail for the occasion.  You see, it’s the anniversary of two big events in Panama, one good and one bad.  It’s the day Henry Morgan, one of the most notorious pirates in history, sacked and set fire to Panama City.  On the same day, 184 years later, the Panama Railway opened, long before the canal was built.

Pirates and Trains

Back in the 1600s seagoing nations were having a great time sailing around capturing and pillaging whatever they liked.  A good example was the East India Company and its subjugation of India.  Naturally, we covered that with the East India cocktail.

If there was an official colony, say what Britain had going in Jamaica, “privateers” would be commissioned to attack and seize Spanish vessels and holdings.  It was a business model of sorts, the spoils split between privateers and the Colony, and in turn the Crown.  Those privateers were pirates, and when they went outside their official duties they didn’t have to share the spoils with the Crown.  Because of this they became fond of pillaging towns.

Henry Morgan had a talent for this, and he attacked Panama City on January 28, 1671.  As a result, he pillaged the valuables without realizing that England and Spain had signed a peace treaty.  A political crisis ensued, the solution to which was political.  He was arrested.  Of course, once he was home in England he was congratulated and knighted.

Things became a bit more constructive by 1855.  US territorial expansion led to a huge increase in passenger and freight traffic from the eastern seaboard to California.  It took a long time to travel by ship around South America, and cargo shipments by land across the US were infeasible at the time.

Crossing Panama was a four day trip by canoe and mule, hardly conducive to freight traffic.  So in 1846 the US signed a treaty for authorization to build a railroad or canal for open transit.  Soon enough the Panama Railroad Company was founded and on January 28, 1855 the railway opened.  It took until 1914 for the canal to open, but the railway is still running.

The Hallelujah Cocktail

We’re naming a drink that comes from Panama as Drink of the Day today.  That’s the Hallelujah cocktail.

The Hallelujah is from an author we’ve visited before:  Charles H. Baker, Jr..  He was the bon vivant and world traveler that wrote The Gentleman’s Companion: An Exotic Drinking Book.  He did good work so we’ve already visited him with the Hotel Nacional cocktail, the Remember the Maine and the Horse Collar cocktail.

Baker refers to the Hallelujah cocktail as “a palate twister from the Isthmus of Panama.”  He reports that the drink was created by Max Bilgray, the owner of Bilgray’s Tropic Bar and Cabaret and dedicated to one Aimee Semple.  Ms. Semple was a somewhat controversial evangelist of the time, the founder of the Foursquare Gospel Church and builder of the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles.  A household sensation, a faith healer and mysterious, she eventually died from a presumably accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

Nonetheless, Mr. Bilgray insisted that Ms. Semple had visited his bar incognito.  He celebrated that event by sending out thousands of postcards with the Hallelujah cocktail recipe.

hallelujah cocktail

Hallelujah Cocktail

Described as a palate twister by Charles H. Baker Jr. in his 1939 book The Gentleman's Companion: An Exotic Drinking Book, the Hallelujah cocktail was created by Max Bilgray. Bilgray was the owner of Bilgray's Tropic Bar and Cabaret in Panama. While ingredients include a choice of rum or rye whiskey as one component, we'd naturally advise leaning toward rum if you're looking to capture a more Central American or Caribbean feeling.
He specifies that the drink should be served in a "large saucer type champagne glass" so a coupe is appropriate.
4.50 from 2 votes


  • 1 oz Cognac
  • ¾ oz Rum or Rye Whiskey
  • oz Sweet Vermouth
  • ¼ oz Fresh lime juice
  • ½ tsp Grenadine
  • No garnish


  • Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into pre-chilled coupe glass.
  • Pour in the direction of your liver.


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