When served at pretty much any bar other than the one it was created in, the Zombie was—until recently—little more than a fancy Long Island Iced Tea: strong, drinkable, and an easy one-way ticket to Hammerville. But hear me out: It’s not the Zombie’s fault, it’s a long-term error in judgment committed by the man who created the drink in the first place.
The Zombie is pretty much the original Tiki cocktail. Created by Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt (AKA Donn Beach) at his Don the Beachcomber restaurant, the drink predated the Mai Tai by a good ten years and is still one of the most recognizable Tiki drinks out there.
So after over 80 years, why has Donn’s Zombie stood the test of time? Because it’s delicious? It is, but you only would have known that if you’d visited Donn’s bar. See, the drink was so popular that it was ordered at other bars, but there was one problem: nobody knew the recipe, not even Donn’s bartenders. His staff relied on a system of unmarked bottles to build the drink, so they’d be instructed to use an ounce of bottle #1, a half ounce of bottle #4, etc.
But folks still wanted this potent, mysterious concoction with the proprietary recipe, so other bars would just throw together whatever juices and syrups they had on hand, pile it in a large glass with a superhuman amount of rum, and festoon it with all manner of umbrellas and other cocktail decorations. Voila, the new Zombie: guaranteed to knock you out, and who cares about the balance of flavors anyway, right?
It’s not hard to imagine why Donn kept his recipes a secret, but I’ve long been of the mind that doing so is a big disservice to the world. Obscuring recipes and trademarking drinks does little more than save you a couple of measly bucks as a bar owner in the end, and the rest of us end up with bastardized versions of what was once a great drink.
But thanks to modern drink archaeologists like Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, who, through decades of print research, hours of interviews with surviving employees, and years of drinking one iteration after another (it can’t all be hard work, after all), we’ve ended up with what is generally accepted to be Donn’s original recipe. Not every classic cocktail out there has been fortunate enough to be rescued by such a savior. But fortunately for our palates, the Zombie is.
And we should all be grateful.
Adapted from Donn Beach by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry
• 1.5 oz gold Puerto Rican rum
• 1.5 oz dark Jamaican rum
• 1 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
• ¾ oz fresh lime juice
• ½ oz falernum
• 1 teaspoon grenadine
• 1 dash Pernod
• 1 dash of Angostura bitters
• ½ ounce Don’s mix (2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup)
Blend in a blender with 6 ounces (¾ cup) crushed ice at high speed for 5 seconds. Pour into a tall glass and add ice cubes to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.