How The Purple Jesus Cocktail Got Its Quirky Name

Irreverence is subjective, so it helps to put aside preconceptions of whether the name Jesus is off-limits for cocktail monikers. Whether lighthearted humor or under-the-breath swearing gave rise to the Purple Jesus cocktail depends on the tongue of the storyteller – and there are indeed a few tales floating around. One thing we know for sure is what comprises this popular party drink.

Depending on location, you may know the Purple Jesus cocktail as Purple Passion, P.J., or Cactus Juice, notes the Chicago Tribune. But the ingredients are much the same. Cloaked in purple hues, as you'd imagine, the Purple Jesus gets its color from the original primary ingredient: grape juice. Early versions of the mixed drink featured the 190-proof grain-alcohol Everclear spirit, explains Punch, but vodka now serves as the most common stand-in. A few holdouts include a recipe from Have a Cocktail, which gives Everclear equal footing with other standard ingredients. From there, craft cocktail creators add their own twists, typically topping it off with ginger ale or beer.

Though purple appears as a symbol of royalty and high quality in Biblical texts, according to Patheos, it's highly unlikely that today's party-time Purple Jesus cocktail evolved from a somber reading of the scriptures. In fact, it's strongly associated with youthful partying, at least in its early days. Such a quirky and mysterious name does deserve a little background, so here's a relatively credible explanation that fits the party-hearty narrative – plus a look at its slightly more "adult" evolution.

Nostalgia with a twist

By most accounts, the original Purple Jesus purposefully hit hard and fast, gaining enthusiasm from young drinkers. Punch describes it as a drink that was frequently quick-mixed in an Igloo cooler, containing enough alcohol for inevitable vomiting. Thus, the evolution of the cocktail's name: the vomit was grape-juice purple, and after drinkers hung over the toilet or heaved onto backyard grasses, they'd compose themselves and exclaim, "Jesus!"

From such inauspicious beginnings, the drink has gotten a slight makeover with considerably lower alcohol content, at least most of the time. Standard vodka contains about half the alcohol strength as Everclear, according to the New York Times, which calls it a "high-octane neutral grain spirit" that's "the bartender's equivalent of jet fuel." It's even illegal in at least 11 states.

Some mixologists stick to the classic grape juice while others now employ liquid flavorings, such as the purple Kool-Aid syrup at Holywater restaurant in New York. Alex Pincus, co-owner of Holywater, tells Punch that the appeal of Purple Jesus is nostalgia and a celebration of youth – with a bit more responsibility. Their version lightens things up even more by adding bubbly Miller High Life, often known as the "Champagne of Beers."

Only a few cocktail recipes twist Purple Jesus into unrecognizable forms, including the SAQ, which calls for a concoction of raspberry-flavored vodka, a citrus liqueur, red cranberry juice, and elderberry spirit. It is purple, and it's a cocktail, albeit with a touch more sophistication.