It’s the last of the Halloween cocktails, and we are finishing with a good one, the Zombie. This is another Tiki classic, but like many others in its class, this drink is rarely made properly. There’s a good reason for that: the drink’s creator, Don the Beachcomber, kept his recipes a secret from the world believing his unique, tasty creations were vital to sustaining his business. Over the years, plenty of knock-off recipes have appeared, but the original remained a mystery until recently.
If there is an expert alive today that knows more about tiki mixology than anyone else, it’s Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. His research, along with that of several others, has produced a growing compendium of tropical masterpieces along with a few surprises. One of these is the original Don the Beachcomber recipe for the Zombie which appeared in a New York Times article. The Beachbum acquired a bartender’s notebook, written in code, that detailed various recipes. Cracking that code took years. I think the payoff was worth the wait.
The original Zombie is one of those drinks that requires a multitude of ingredients. From falernum to grenadine, cinnamon syrup to multiple rums—this drink seems to have it all. Several ingredients can be made at home, but the most elusive component is high-proof Demerara rum. Today, the only respectable choice is Lemon Hart 151 which has recently become quite scarce. As Lemon Hart regains a US importer, we may once again have access to this important spirit, but until that happens, we are probably months away from seeing it on the shelves. That means the only folks making the Zombie properly are those that own older bottles. Apparently, there is no good substitute for the flavor of a good, overproof Demerara.
Anticipating this shortage and recognizing the challenges most people would face obtaining the ingredients, Jeff Berry published a simplified recipe in his book, Beachbum Berry Remixed, an anthology which includes his previous Grog Log and Intoxica. However, you will still need to make cinnamon syrup which is pretty easy.
Zombie (simplified by Jeff Beachbum Berry)
.75 oz lime juice
1 oz white grapefruit juice
.5 oz cinnamon syrup (see note)
.5 oz amber 151-proof rum
1 oz dark Jamaican rum
Shake with ice cubes, then pour the whole works into a tall glass. Add more ice to fill if necessary and garnish with a sprig of mint.
Note: To make cinnamon syrup, crush three cinnamon sticks and grind into small pieces. Add to a saucepan with a cup of sugar and a cup of water. Bring to a boil, then allow to cool for two hours. Strain and bottle.
The combination of grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup is a revelation. It was known by bartenders as Don’s Mix, a secret ingredient that took Jeff Berry over a year to decode. This Zombie may not have the depth of flavor and subtle nuances of the original, but it’s still a fantastic drink. The 1930s recipe contained a dash of Angostura, a little falernum, some grenadine, and a few drops of Pernod—and of course, the crucial combination of 151 Demerara, Puerto Rican, and Jamaican rums. Enjoy this simplified version, or pickup a copy of the Bum’s book and explore the original. Either way, it’s an amazing drink worthy of your effort. Happy Halloween!