The Zombie

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Probably the most famous Tiki drink alongside the Mai Tai, the Zombie is a tall drink that packs a punch, and can quite easily make the imbiber feel like a member of the undead.


It sounds like something that is a horrible Halloween party drink, but in actuality, the Zombie has a longstanding history, and is deserving of quite a bit of respect.  Created by Donn Beach, the Zombie has multiple variations and recipes, partly due to Donn’s desire to experiment with liquor, but more so on account of his secretive personality (DeGroff 190).  The Zombie, historically, became a sanctioned cocktail, with an imposed limit of no more than two, since it is a behemoth of a drink that in one glass is the equivalent of three or four able bodied cocktails due to sheer alcohol content (Ibid).  The recipe that we take as the principle version of the Zombie, known as the 1934 version, is from the notes of an employee, Dick Santiago, who was a waiter at the eponymously named restaurant Don the Beachcomber: this waiter shared his notes with Jeff Berry enabling the cocktail to be understood in the way it was meant to be drunk; Berry is known as Beachbum Berry and is an expert on the history of Tiki drinks (Ibid).  The version which was published posthumously by Donn’s wife Phoebe, while called definitive, is less of a drink and more of a monstrosity, overwhelming all the mixers with pure unadulterated alcohol (Ibid).

The Tiki cocktail.  Historically it is an interesting aspect of the entire cocktail time-line.  Originally invented by Pacific Islanders, their drinks were social rituals, praxis which attended to social solidarity and mystical experiences in the individual thanks to powerful narcotic plants (Berry 24).  The origins of the tropical drink, at least in spirit, come from the Kava Bowl, the hallucinogenic mixture of plants; yet, the movement towards what we recognize as a cocktail is the product of Navy Grog, which was created as a mixture of lime juice and rum in order to prevent scurvy, a drink that became a cocktail inherent to the British sailor (Ibid 25).  We see a lot of experimentation with rum, known originally as Kill-Devil thanks to religious and medical concerns over the evil nature of the drink, both in the Caribbean but also in the United States, at least with the flip, a mixture of beer, rum and molasses heated using a loggerhead (Ibid; Curtis 71, 83).

The idea of the Tiki drink owes its’ origin to Donn, whose original name was Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt (Berry 26).  Donn capitalized on the United States desire for the foreign, the tropical, something reminiscent of the ethnographic trend towards the oriental savageness of the South Pacific, let alone anything native and exotic.  But furthermore, Donn was capable at creating an illusion, an atmosphere that promoted that sensation, and instilling the consumer with a sense of being a part of that exotic mystical land through food and cocktails and decor.  His greatest rival was Trader Vic, another great proprietor and creator of cocktails who instilled the air of Tiki with life: yet, after the Vietnam war, the popular obsession with that corner of the world diminished, partly thanks to disillusionment (Ibid 28-29).

Returning to the Zombie, we know that Donn was highly protective of the drink and that he created an encoded recipe so as not to enable employees to sell insider secrets (Ibid 167).  The two major versions of the Zombie are the 1934 version, which is the one listed below and in many books as the quintessential Zombie, but also the 1950 version which is quite different in terms of ingredients.  Just to be aware, it is exceedingly difficult now to find Lemon Hart 151.  However, other overproof rums are available, and you can still make a mighty fine zombie even if it isn’t the rich smoky flavor of the demerara (Wray and Nephew or Goslings overproof ain’t bad in a Zombie).  Other than that, you can get a great drink by experimenting with various rums: it is pretty hard to make an abysmal Zombie, and sometimes you come up with something really unique or tasty just with a weird combination of good quality rums.  And in case you were curious, the mid-century version of the Zombie involves using pineapple juice and passion fruit syrup, making it less complicated compared to the 1934 version (Ibid 170). 

Overall, you can’t go wrong with a Zombie when made properly.  Just make sure to drink them in moderation, since they pack a very potent punch.  And even though Embury calls this drink “the most over advertised, over emphasized, over exalted, and foolishly feared drink whose claims to glory ever assault the eyes and ears of the gullible American public,” this drink is a mighty fine one (Embury 279).  Interesting to note, the recipe that Embury gives for the Zombie is similar to the 1950 version, despite the fact this book was published two years earlier than the 1950 version came out.  I wonder if by any chance the 1950 version refers specifically to the recipe set out in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks as a means of deception; in other words, it may have been possible that the 1950s version may have been a recipe that came into existence thanks to the interpretation Embury created.  Regardless, all this discussion of the Zombie leaves me wanting wanting one.  I leave you aware that the mythical recipe has been exposed: “And there, brother, is your Zombie, grandfather of all pixies, and great-uncle to the gremlins” (Ibid 280).

The Zombie:

3/4 ounce Lime Juice
1/2 ounce Don’s Mix
1/2 ounce Falernum
1 1/2 ounces Jamaican Rum
1 1/2 ounces Gold Puerto Rican Rum
1 ounce 151 Demerara Rum
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1/4th teaspoon Herbsaint or Pernod
1 teaspoon Grenadine

Don’s Mix:

2/3 part grapefruit juice
1/3 part cinnamon syrup


Combine all the ingredients in a blender with 3/4 cup crushed ice, blending for five seconds.  Pour into a chimney glass and add more crushed ice to fill the glass if necessary, garnishing with mint.  If a blender is not available, taking the crushed ice, shake the ingredients together briefly, pouring into a zombie glass.

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Berry, Jeff.  2010.  Beachbum Berry Remixed: A Gallery of Tiki Drinks.  San Jose: SLG Publishing.

Curtis, Wayne. 2006.  And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.  New York: Three Rivers Press.

DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Embury, David A.  2009.  The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.  Originally published 1948.  New York: Mud Puddle Books, Inc.