Tales 2012 – Bottle Alley – Drinking The Panama Canal

This seminar took us through the history of drinking at the Panama Canal during the time the canal was built – something i didn´t know anything about – until David Wondrich and Jeff Berry with their usual engaging way of great story-telling took us there.

The scandalous, murderous, delicious history of Panamanian alcohology. From 1502 to 1945, the Isthmus of Panama took an epic journey from native Indian spit-beer to pirate punch, and from yellow fever to cocktail fever.

The cast of characters includes Captain Morgan (the real one, not the spiced one), Teddy Roosevelt, cocktail pioneer Jerry Thomas, and cocktail chronicler Charles Baker. Vintage Panamanian recipes will be served.

The conditions during that time was not the best to put it mildly and the two killers were disease and then liqueur –  whereof there was but one cure – liquor….a little was medecine and excess was suicide. The smell of guano permeated the air and houses and mold quickly covered their furniture…

In fact an excess of 20 000 workers died from diseases like yellow fever, malaria and black-water fever during the bulding of the canal – so life was short on the Panama canal….and therefore they lived like there was no tomorrow – drinking, whoring and gambling. There even was a street called the bottle alley” because it was litterally paved with bottles.

That street was covered in deep mud, daily rains, old garbage, dead horses, live rats and of course bottles to no end and the workers kept drinking because there wasn´t anything else to do…and they imported french liqueur for the workers.

Sounds like hell on earth to me…not the french liqueur but the place…

Interesting to hear about some obscure history like this and during the session Jeff and David showed us plenty of pictures from the time and my conclusion of the story is that they drank a lot in Panama canal…the water was unsafe to drink unless you wanted to get sick so what was left was liqueur.

Jeff “Beachbum” Berry

David Wondrich

What Captain Morgan did (he was actually not a pirate but a privateer - a sort of legal pirate (there´s a a thin line here) who had permission from the Brittish government to attack Spanish ships and ports when England and Spain were at war) was raiding Spanish towns and ships in the 1660’s and 1670’s and eventually capturing and sacking of the rich city of Panama.

He inadvertently burned the town to the ground in violation of a treaty between Britain and Spain. Capt Morgan was eventually forgiven by King Charles II for his carelessness and sent to Jamaica where he became Lieutenant-Governor.

During the seminar we were served appropriate cocktails of course..

Here`s two cocktails from the time:


2 oz dry gin

1 oz cognac

0.5 oz white creme de cacao

0.5 oz liquor 43

0.5 oz heavy cream

pinch clove and cinnamon

This cocktail was so YUMMY! try it!


This was another drink they used to drink, no measures were given here but make it as you would a julep.

Jungle mint

Dark and light rums

Apricot brandy – a dash only

Crushed ice

Julep cup – proceed as you would a normal mint julep

And here are a couple more interesting cocktails from the time:

Champagne Cocktail

Pirate Punch

San Blas Debutant

We learn some interesting history at the Tales of the Cocktail and we drink some great cocktails…come down there next year!

 Photography Ken Stock

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