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  • Writer's pictureBamboo Sam

The Zombie

The dangerous drink that launched the tropical drinks craze


Zombie!

I'm really not sure how I made it this far without doing a post on the Zombie. But, this being the eve of All Hallows Eve, the time seemed right.


Much like the Mai Tai, the Zombie is one of those drinks that everyone's heard of and few have ever had a good one. It's reputation is legendary. Don placed a two drink limit on Zombies at his Hollywood restaurant and considering that his 1934 version of the drink contained 3 ounces of 80 proof rum and 1 ounce of 151 proof rum it was probably a good idea. Rumor has it that the night in 1936 when Howard Hughes hit and killed a pedestrian he was driving home from Don the Beachcomber's after a couple of Zombies.


The other similarity between the Zombie and the Mai Tai is that it was so popular that imitators created their best facsimile and sold them as the same drink with the same name even though they didn't actually know what was in the original. The reason no one knew what was in a Zombie was because Don the Beachcomber worked very hard to keep it that way. He only gave the recipe to his most trusted bartenders, every one else worked from recipes that were in code. Things like "2 ounces rum blend #2, 1 ounce Don's Mix #1, etc.) With all of the ingredients premixed by Don or off-sight, rival bars couldn't poach his staff and get his recipes. The result was twofold. 1) Other bars just made their own versions and since more drinkers went to every other bar than actually made it to Don the Beachcomber's the crappy derivatives became the standard. 2) The actual recipe(s) were almost lost forever as Don and his bartenders retired.


Thankfully, Jeff "Beachbum" Berry came to the rescue and over the course of 10 years he was able to recover several "original" Zombies. If you're interested in the whole sordid tale I'd suggest his book Sippin' Safari. If the guy's written a bad book I haven't read it yet. You may have noticed that I said he found several Zombie recipes. That is not a reference to the pale imitations that came from other sources but the various versions Don himself served over the years. Don (like most bartenders) constantly tweaked his recipes. It's not just a habit but often a necessity. Rum brands and varieties come and go, even those that stay change over time. Even the fruit itself has changed a bit since Don's first Zombie in 1934. In fact, despite all of the advancements of the past century, I'll bet you have a harder time finding white grapefruit than Don did. When it comes to the various versions they tend to fall into a couple of categories. There's the original, simpler versions given to magazine or recipe books, and variations provided to other bars that hired Don as a consultant. The original was found in a notebook of Dick Santiago - an employee of Don's from 1937 -1952 by the Bum. While it was in code, the Bum was able to crack it and so the first recipe below is this earliest version of the Zombie known.


However, as I said, Don never stopped tweaking his recipes. In 1959 Don was hired as a consultant for the Aku Aku, a Polynesian themed restaurant at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. They had a Zombie on their menu that is believed to be another of Don's recipes. This is actually the Zombie that I prefer. It's not that the original isn't good, it's just that the Aku Aku version is much better balanced and nuanced. The inclusion of small amounts of so many ingredients is a pain but then again, all great art requires suffering!

Zombie Cocktail

Zombie (1934 Original)

Source - Intoxica, Jeff "Beachbum" Berry

  • 3/4 ounce lime juice

  • 1/2 ounce Don's mix¹

  • 1/2 ounce falernum*

  • 1 1/2 ounces gold Puerto Rican rum*

  • 1 1/2 ounce aged Jamaican rum*

  • 1 ounce Lemon Hart 151

  • dash Angostura bitters

  • 1/8 teaspoon Pernod

  • 1 teaspoon grenadine


Build everything in a mixing tin and flash blend for 5 seconds with crushed ice using a spindle mixer. Serve in a chimney glass or Tiki mug. Garnish is a mint sprig.


¹Don's mix is two parts white grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon syrup.


*Bamboo Sam's customizations: For the falernum I use Taylor's Velvet Falernum. I am still using Cruzan as a sub for Puerto Rican rums and the Bum recommends Appleton V/X or Extra for the Jamaican. The Lemon Hart 151 is a must; there are no substitutes!


Zombie in Tiki Mug

Zombie (1959 Aku Aku)

Source - Intoxica, Jeff "Beachbum" Berry

  • 3/4 ounce lime juice

  • 3/4 ounce white grapefruit juice

  • 3/4 ounce cinnamon syrup*

  • 3/4 ounces gold Puerto Rican rum*

  • 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum*

  • 3/4 ounce Lemon Hart 151

  • 1/8 teaspoon Pernod¹

  • 1/8 teaspoon grenadine¹

  • 1/8 teaspoon falernum¹

  • 1/8 teaspoon orange curaçao¹

  • dash Angostura bitters


Build everything in a mixing tin and flash blend for 5 seconds with crushed ice using a spindle mixer. Serve in a chimney glass or Tiki mug. Garnish is a mint sprig.


¹pre-mix these together and you get what Don the Beachcomber called his Zombie Mix.


*Bamboo Sam's customizations: For the falernum I use Taylor's Velvet Falernum. I am still using Cruzan as a sub for Puerto Rican rums and in this drink I bounce back and forth between Plantation Xamayca and Dr. Bird for the Jamaican. As before, the Lemon Hart 151 is a must; there are no substitutes!





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