The Zombie Cocktail is the drink that started the whole Tiki craze. As discussed in our Intro to Tiki Drinks, Donn Beach, the man responsible for brightening our civilization with faux-Polynesian concoctions, created the drink with his vision of what tropical drinks should taste like and ultimately defined the standard by which we all judge what Tiki is. Beach referred to the drink as a “mender of broken dreams” and limited each customer to two. That pretty much describes how the drink got its name.
Donn Beach created the Zombie in 1934 to kickoff the opening of his restaurant, Don the Beachcomber. Being a fanatic about protecting his intellectual property, he only told a small group of trusted people what the actual recipe was. As Tiki became more popular, others tried to imitate Beach’s recipe and created their own versions of the drink. This is why there are almost as many Zombie recipes today as there are bartenders who make them. Like most things Tiki, the original recipe is complex. The original Zombie recipe (as reverse engineered by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry) goes like this:
The Original Zombie Cocktail Recipe
- 1-1/2 oz Gold Puerto Rican Rum
- 1-1/2 oz Aged Jamaican Rum
- 1 oz 151-Proof Lemon Hart Demerara Rum
- 3/4 oz Freshly Squeezed lime Juice
- 1/2 oz Falernum
- 1/2 oz Don’s Mix*
- 1 tsp Grenadine
- 1/8 tsp Pernod
- Mint Sprig for garnish
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend no more than 5 seconds – really, just a shot or two of the power button is enough. Pour unstrained into a Tiki Mug or a Chimney Glass (Collins Glass), add crushed ice to fill the glass and add the mint sprig.
*Don’s Mix: 2 parts white grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup. Basically, make 1:1 simple syrup and while simmering the sugar and water, break up a few cinnamon sticks and let them simmer with the mixture for a while.
Like I said, complicated. As with most Tiki Drinks, the trick is getting the rums right and this is why Tiki Drinks are especially difficult for the home bartender. In the case of the Zombie, it’s the 151-proof Lemon Hart Demerara rum that gives the drink its smoky complexity. But, not only is it hard to find Lemon Hart, it’s difficult to find any brand of Demerara (Guyanese) rum. Additionally, the large number of ingredients required means you’ll spend the night behind the bar instead of drinking with your guests. So, we’ve tried to recreate the taste of the Zombie using fewer, easier to find ingredients. While our version, based on a variation by Beachbum Berry, may not be as complex as the original, we think it’s pretty close. Also, it’s not as boozy as Donn Beach’s version. Perhaps this means our version doesn’t qualify for the Zombie moniker? It’s still pretty potent. We’ll let you decide.
Consumatorium’s Zombie Cocktail Recipe
- 1 oz Dark Jamaican Rum (I used Myers’s)
- 1/2 oz 151-proof Amber Rum (I used Bacardi)
- 3/4 oz White Grapefruit Juice (real, unsweetened juice)
- 3/4 oz Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
- 1/2 oz Spiced Simple Syrup*
- Mint Sprig for Garnish
We suggest you also add:
- 1/2 oz Falernum
- 1/4 tsp (a few drops or a spray) Absinthe
The first set of ingredients make a terrific Zombie, adding the Falernum, which is an ingredient in most Tiki Drinks, and the Absinthe really makes this recipe shine, though.
Mix well in a shaker and pour the ingredients, unstrained into a Tiki Mug or Collins Glass. If you’ve shaken the drink enough, the ice will be a good size to pour into the collins glass. Keep in mind that melted ice is part of the recipe. Add more fresh ice to fill the glass and garnish with the Mint Sprig.
*Spiced Simple Syrup (makes about 12 oz):
- 1-1/2 cups Sugar
- 1-1/2 cups Water
- 4 Cinnamon Sticks, each broken into 4-5 pieces
- 20 Whole Cloves
- 1/2 Vanilla Bean, sliced lengthwise
Simmer the sugar and water in a medium-size saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to simmer for 10 more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Once the syrup has cooled, transfer to another container (include all the solid ingredients) and chill in the fridge overnight. Strain the solids out and keep chilled. Your Spiced Simple Syrup is now ready to use.
You can certainly get store bought Zombie mix that contains loads of sugar and synthetic ingredients, but it’s not the same. You can never match the complexity of a well-mixed drink with a pre-made solution and, in the case of Tiki Drinks, the complexity and wide variety of flavors is what they’re all about.
Why You’ll Like the Zombie Cocktail
It’s the quintessential and original Tiki Drink. It’s sweet, of course, but surprisingly balanced. In the original recipe, the rum taste is easy to recognize. In our version, especially with the Falernum and Absinthe, the rum is nicely balanced with the other ingredients, especially with the tart taste of the grapefruit juice. This probably won’t be a drink that goes into your regular rotation, but as a drink you make once in a while for a fun evening, it’ll definitely help raise the dead.