Purgatory Cocktail

For Galileo's birthday

Your cocktail calendar entry for: February
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February 15 is Galileo’s birthday, and for that the Drink of the Day is the Purgatory cocktail.  After all, he’s one of those figures like Elvis or Oprah that is recognized by a single name.  That alone makes him worthy of a drink.  But he didn’t gain fame through pop culture.  Quite the opposite, he did it through science and got the Catholic Church in quite a tizzy.  But unless you’re a flat-earther we all now recognize that he was right.  That’s why we’re mixing the Purgatory cocktail – he was right in the end, but as we’ll soon see was put through an inquisition and held under house arrest.

The Purgatory cocktail is a Negroni variation, one of our favorite families of drinks.  It follows the same basic formula: base spirit and two non-juice modifiers.  In this case they just happen to be potent ones.


Galileo, or more formally the real mouthful Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti dé Galilei, was born February 15, 1564 In Pisa, Italy.  As a young man he considered the priesthood, but his father convinced him to pursue a medical degree.  But that didn’t last when he noticed that swinging chandeliers took the same time to swing back and forth no matter how far they were swinging.  He set up two pendulums with different sweep of his own and found they kept time together.  So he switched to mathematics and started to make history.

You might say Galileo went on a science kick.  He studied velocity, gravity, free fall, projectile motion and invented the thermoscope (a predecessor to the thermometer).  Our protagonist didn’t invent the telescope, but made improvements that enabled him to discover the four largest moons of Jupiter, now known as the Galilean moons.

He was a major contributor to the development of the scientific method, insisting that the book of nature was written in the language of mathematics.  That was a dramatic change from the qualitative methods traditionally used.

From his astronomical observations, including such things as the phases of the planet Venus, he got behind heliocentrism, that we orbit the sun.  Trouble was, most educated people and the Church subscribed to the Aristotelian geocentric view of the Earth as the center of the Universe.

This all played out over several years, but in the end the Roman Inquisition found he was “vehemently suspect of heresy” and was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.  But there he did some of his best work, writing on kinematics and strength of materials.  Einstein himself praised this work and Galileo is often called the father of modern physics.

Purgatory Cocktail

Pope John Paul II formally apologized for the “Galileo case” in 1992.  Better late than never.  His house arrest may sound harsh but was at least objectively better than the alternative of burning at the stake.

We figure Galileo’s house arrest was his version of purgatory so that’s what we’ll be drinking today.  The Purgatory cocktail was developed by Ted Kilgore at the Monarch Restaurant in Maplewood, Missouri.  The late Gary ‘Gaz’ Regan brought it to prominence in 2007 for his SFGATE column.  As Regan wrote, “simplicity is often the key to a good drink” and the Purgatory fits the bill.  It’s a three-ingredient recipe and fits our view of Negroni variations as it’s a base spirit with two non-juice modifiers.

But the Purgatory cocktail recipe is also pretty brave, as it uses two powerfully flavored spirits:  Chartreuse and Benedictine.  A strongly flavored base spirit, like the rye whiskey called for, is certainly needed to stand up to those two.  It’s among the more spirit-forward in the family of Negroni variations.

Kilgore apparently created the drink as aid for an employee at Monarch that had suffered a rough night.  Regan reports that the drink arrived with the warning, “If you drink very many of these in succession, you will experience this drink’s namesake.  You have been forewarned.”

That warning, of course, is a play on Harry Craddock’s comment about the Corpse Reviver No. 2 in The Savoy Cocktail Book.  There he wrote “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”  We agree.  The original Purgatory cocktail recipe called for nearly four ounces of high-alcohol ingredients.  We have scaled the recipe shown to the more typical three-ounce total.

purgatory cocktail

Purgatory Cocktail

The Purgatory cocktail is a spirits-forward drink using rye whiskey together with two strongly flavored modifiers - Chartreuse and Benedictine. It was developed by George Kilgore at the Monarch restaurant in Missouri and reported on by the late Gary 'Gaz' Regan. Originally the recipe was large - four ounces of potent ingredients, but we have scaled it to standard size.
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  • oz Rye whiskey
  • ½ oz Chartreuse (green)
  • ½ oz Benedictine
  • Garnish Lemon twist


  • Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
  • Add ice and stir to chill.
  • Strain drink into pre-chilled Nick & Nora glass.
  • Express twist over drink and garnish.
  • Drink.
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