With their tanks, and their bombs, and their bombs, and their rums…
I’ve been putting this one off for too long. Not because there’s anything wrong with the Zombie – in fact it is one of my favourite cocktails – but because it’s a complex drink with a complex story. The Zombie is no beginners drink but you’ve been making some remarkable progress recently and I think you’re ready for the challenge. And I was on the Z’s anyway.
Along with the Navy Grog, the Zombie is easily Don the Beachcomber‘s most famous creation. Indeed you could consider it a Navy Grog on steroids with the same core formula of rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice and some syrup, blended and served with ice. But the devil is in the details. A good Zombie (hmm) is a carefully considered balance of rums, citrus, sugar and spices that create a depth of flavour and complexity that few other cocktails can approach. While the ingredient list can look intimidating it isn’t that difficult to make a superb Zombie, especially with the subtly tweaked recipe I present below. They don’t call me the Zombie Whisperer for nothing*.
Allegedly created to help a hung-over businessman through an important meeting, Donn’s original 1934 Zombie created a sensation at the time and was widely (and usually badly) copied giving rise to a multitude of mediocre mixtures. Before long anything containing an obscene amount of rum and a bit of fruit juice or (gawd ‘elp us) sour mix was getting the Zombie moniker slapped on it and there were even a bunch of shucksters claiming they’d invented it (that’s right I’m talking about you Monte Proser!) In any case, any hint of the original Zombie had pretty much vanished by the late 60s – not least because by then folks had discovered newer ways to get off their tits in under 5 minutes.
To be sure there is a lot of rum in a Zombie and I find the original version just a touch over the top with its (equivalent of) 5oz(!) of rum but, hey, prohibition had just ended and people presumably felt that they had some catching up to do. One of those and you certainly shouldn’t be driving or operating heavy machinery, heck, you’ll be lucky if you can operate your legs. Donn Beach himself limited Zombies to a maximum of two per customer which probably only added to the notoriety. In the interests of full disclosure I should probably add that I’m drinking the 1934 version as I’m writing this because that’s the kind of sacrifice I make for you guys.
Yet simply pouring a ton-o-rum does not a Zombie make and The Beachcomber tinkered with the recipe throughout his career as well as defending it from his imitators by keeping those recipes secret. And secret they remained until Tiki expert in chief Jeff “Beachbum” Berry painstakingly uncovered the original recipe – along with a few others – in the early years of the cocktail renaissance (1998- ∞).
If you still don’t have his book Beachbum Berry Remixed order it now or I refuse to continue. Good, about time. This most indispensable Tiki tome has a recipe from the Las Vegas Aku Aku (in the Stardust casino) from 1964 that he reckons is Donn’s final version** and it certainly bears all his hallmarks. I tinkered with this recipe just a touch to bring it back up towards the strength of his original 1934 version. To me this Zombie ticks all boxes; it’s essentially a Donn recipe, it has the character of the original but with out being too strong*** and the proportions are much easier to measure and remember compared to the 1934 version. Let’s do it!
Zombie (Proof version of the Berry version of the Aku Aku version of the original 1934 version).
1oz/30ml fresh lime juice.
1oz/30ml white grapefruit juice.
1oz/30ml cinnamon syrup.
1oz/30ml Dark Jamaican rum (see notes below).
1oz/30ml Gold rum (ditto).
1oz/30ml Overproof Demerara rum (ditto).
1 teaspoon of Zombie mix (WTF?****)
1 or 2 dashes Angostura bitters.
Pulse blend 6 or 7 times with a small scoop of crushed ice*****. Pour unstrained into an ice filled Collins glass or Tiki mug.
Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Toast Dolores O’Riordan (1971-2018)
Notes on rum.
Dark Jamaican: Myers’s, Coruba dark (US), Blackwell or Captain Morgan’s Black/Jamaican (EU).
Gold rum: Lot’s of choices here for example dry Spanish style (Havana Club Anejo Especial, Abuelo, Brugal, Don Q etc.), Barbados (Mount Gay, Cockspur etc.) or even gold Jamaican (I particularly like Coruba NPU in my Zombie).
Overproof Demerara: A bit trickier; Ideally Lemon Hart 151 or Hamilton 151 but more realistically Plantation OTFD which is a good substitute and widely available. For those in the UK, Wood’s 100 will do the trick but use 1.25oz/37ml.
* Oh, all right, you got me – I made that up. I’m just channeling The Beachcomber who was always making up BS stories about himself.
**He wrote their menu a few years prior.
***It’s still a very strong drink (just under 4oz equiv), so do be careful!
**** Equal parts of absinthe, grenadine, falernum, curaçao (or other orange liqueur). I like to keep some in a small 50ml bottle for impromptu Zombiage.
***** Made you look!