The Zombie is my favorite Tiki Cocktail. I love them, and if I may brag, I make some great ones. The challenge with a Zombie is keeping a delicate balance with all of the rum in this drink. The zombie lives up to its name, it is a monster. Over the course of time I have amassed a decent list of Zombie Variations, and a slightly updated version of the classic.
The most common zombie typically enjoyed is a play on what is known as the ’34. This recipe was an attempt to recreate the original which was a secret back in 1934. Through diligent research the legendary Tiki researcher Jeff “Beach Bum” Barry uncovered the original Zombie creation of Don Beach of The Beachcomber, with the mysterious ingredient Donn’s Mix. It took even more years to find an old bartender who would share what that actually was. Turns out its just Cinnamon Bark Syrup and Grapefruit Juice. No joke.
Here is my favorite, and very delicious version of the Zombie.
Plantation 5 year Rum. Real McCoy 3 year Rum. Lemon Heart 151 Demerara Rum. Velvet Falernum. Donn’s Mix. Lime. Grenadine. Absinthe.
Enjoy the Zombie, but take care after the second you may become one.
The challenge with a Zombie is keeping a delicate balance with all of the rum in this drink. The zombie lives up to its name, it is a monster.
- 1 1/2 oz Plantation 5 Year Rum
- 1 1/2 oz Real McCoy 3 year
- 1 oz Lemon Heart 151 Demerara rum
- 3/4 oz Lime Juice
- 1/4 oz Grapefruit Juice
- 1/4 oz Cinnamon Bark Syrup
- 1 tsp Grenadine
- 1/2 oz Velvet Falernum
- 2 dashes Absinthe
Add all except the Lemon Heart Rum to a cocktail shaker.
Add quite a bit of small ice.
Shake for about 10 seconds.
Dump the entire thing into a zombie or Tiki mug.
Take care not to over fill the mug, of it it s short top with more ice, leaving about 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) space in the mug.
Float the 1 ounce of Lemon Heart rum on top.
Garnish with a sprig of mint, lime wedge with a skewer in it, and straw.
The Gods of Tiki
Here is where I need to apologize. Real Tiki drinks are not simple, they are not the “life hack” internet easy so common today. If you find a post that maybe says, “5 simple Tiki drinks”, they probably loosely based on the original concept. This zombie has no less than nine ingredients. I am not saying easy is bad. In all likelihood they are fine drinks, just not true to form of hte original Tiki cocktails. After making so many traditional Tiki cocktails, I will proclaim making them worth the effort. But make no mistake there is effort.
Rhums, Rums, Rons and What the Heck is Donns Mix?
Many Tiki drinks use 3 and up to 5 different rums. The call is oddly specific, so having all the rums is a real expensive pain. You can sub in other rums, but a Lemon Hart 151 is simply not replaceable with a Bacardi 151. Also you will either have to buy or make things like Donns Mix, Orgeat, Allspice Dram, Fashionola, or Pearl Driver Mix. I’m a bit of a purist, but I cheat on this stuff too, so I’ll try to offer recommendations if there a riff or substitution. The difference in Rum, Ron or Rhum is the country of origin. It turns out in the rum world the flavor of a rum has almost nothing to do with the color, but nearly everything to do with where it is produced.
Luckily Tiki and tropical drinks are strong and the flavor profile is very forgiving, if you don’t have an ingredient and substitute, usually you will be okay. A substitute will usually taste great, and it will still suggest the flavor of the original. I riff Tiki drinks nine ways to Sunday, and within the reasonable bounds of the cocktail they are always good, usually fantastic.
Tale of Two Bartenders
This is not my story, but it is well researched. In fact there are several cocktail books that do a fantastic job of explaining the story of Donn Beach (born Ernest Gantt) and Trader Vic (Victor Bergeron Jr.). The basic gist is these two very successful bar owners were also fierce competitors, and exceptional showmen in their own right. Each bar, Don the Beachcomber, and Trader Vic’s are iconic and legendary bars that created the Tiki culture. While they shared a style, they did not share recipes. Quite the opposite. Unlike today where a recipe is plastered all over the internet, (guilty as charged here) their recipes were fiercely guarded. But guarding a recipe can only take you so far.
In addition they had secret ingredients in their drinks. Little mixes and concoctions that had special names, and ingredients only a trusted few knew. These ingredients are not complex, but important. I will share how to make many, but some you may want to buy.
Why bother with these shenanigans? In the 1950’s a bartender with the knowledge to make their wildly popular yet proprietary drinks could make a lot of money elsewhere. Sadly these recipes were lost until a research author Jeff “Beach Bum” Berry spent years meticulously uncovering them. Only recently have all these ingredients been known.
This level of secrecy has its benefits, but it has its downsides too. As the actual ingredients were a secret, bartenders all over the world just made their version of the cocktails with the same name and passed them off as the real thing. Think about unless you have been to the actual bars, how would you really know.
Navy Grog, Mai Tai, & the Zombie
The most popular Tiki drink is probably the Mai Tai. Until I started making my own I thought a Mai Tai was just a rum punch. Basically, fruit juice and strong rum. It is also so much more. Once I had a real Mai Tai, I was hooked, the other big drinks were the Navy Grog and the Zombie. A zombie is my absolute favorite Tiki drink, if you were wondering. These three are the trinity of Tiki. There are many more but this is the holy three. You will find these secret elixirs from the past are amazingly delicious.
Try our other amazing Tiki and Tropical cocktails: