I have had more than a few people lately ask me . . .
What's a good drink to serve at my Halloween party?
The easy answer is: Take your favorite punch recipe and add a block of dry ice to it to create a layer of billowing fog. Dim the lights and throw a couple of glow sticks on top to make it extra-eerie. While that's fun, it's almost more suited for a kids' halloween party. I have a better idea. Let's go into the vaults and make one of my favorite Tiki drinks, the Zombie.
The Zombie has quite the storied history. It was created way back in 1934 by one Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt. He changed his name to Donn Beach, and opened a little tropical-themed restaurant and bar called Don the Beachcomber. Soon, competing tropical paradises dotted the country, including a few by Victor Bergeron, who you know better as the inventor of the Mai Tai, Trader Vic.
See Also: How to Make the Perfect Mai Tai
While Don invented quite a few tropical drinks, he was arguably most famous for the Zombie. Back in the mid-1930s, he was working on a new drink. He gave a test version to a regular who happened to be on his way off to a business trip. The guy liked it so much, he ordered another one. The man then went off on his trip. When he came back, he told Don that the drink made him feel like the living dead for the entire trip. Don decided on two things. First, the name of the drink was going to be the Zombie. Second, there was going to be a limit of two per person.
The original Zombie recipe demonstrates the immense secrecy that went into Tiki drinks back in their heyday. These signature drinks were the lifeblood of Tiki bars, so proprietors went to great lengths to make sure nobody could copy their original recipes. How secure was the Zombie? The drink was created in 1934, and the code was cracked by Tiki historian Jeff "Beachbum" Berry less than five years ago.
A note was found that appeared to be the original Zombie recipe. No less than nine ingredients went into it. Most of them are familiar. Falernum is a little weird (it's a rum-based liqueur with lime and clove notes), but it's a staple of any well-stocked Tiki bar. Then you get to... half an ounce of Don's Mix. Well, what the hell is Don's Mix? He talked to some people, and found out that it's two parts grapefruit juice, and one part... Spices #4. Now, what the hell is Spices #4? It looked like the end of the road for Berry, but he persevered. He talked to some of Don's suppliers, and found out it was cinnamon syrup. At last, the long-lost secret of the Zombie had been cracked.
There's a bit of a wrinkle, though. Don was a tinkerer. He has several variations of the Zombie in print. He gave one of them to a friend who was writing a cookbook in the 1950s. This new Zombie was nothing like the original. But, it was more accessible to the general public, and it kept his original recipe safe. And, it's also quite delicious.
Which one is better? I can't say for sure one way or the other. It's like when Tina Turner sings "Proud Mary". Some people like it nice and easy, other people like it nice and rough. The 1950s version is nice and easy; the flavor is smooth with a little citrus bite, and it still packs a pretty good wallop. The 1934 is nice and rough. With all of the different flavors in there, it takes your tongue on a veritable roller coaster ride through sweet, tangy, strong, spicy, and a little bit herbal.
The 1950s version is the one I'd put out for a big party, but I'd likely have a small pitcher of the 1934 version hiding in the refrigerator for those daring enough to try it.
Zombie (circa 1950) 1 ounce lemon juice 1 ounce lime juice 1 ounce light rum 1 ounce gold rum 1 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum 1 ounce pineapple juice 1 ounce passionfruit syrup 1 teaspoon Demerara sugar syrup 1 dash Angostura bitters
Shake well with crushed ice. Pour into a tall glass or Tiki mug. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Zombie (circa 1934) 3/4 ounce lime juice 1-1/2 ounce gold rum 1-1/2 ounces aged Jamaican rum (such as Appleton Estate) 1 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum 1/2 ounce falernum 1/8 teaspoon (6 drops) absinthe 1/2 ounce Don's Mix (recipe follows) 1 teaspoon grenadine 1 dash Angostura bitters
Flash blend in a blender, up to 5 seconds on high speed, with 3/4 cup crushed ice. Pour into a chimney or Collins glass, adding ice cubes to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Don's Mix Combine 2 parts white grapefruit juice with 1 part cinnamon syrup. To make cinnamon syrup: Mix 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan. Crush 3 cinnamon sticks and add to pan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer 2 minutes. Cover and let steep at least 2 hours. Strain out cinnamon. Store syrup in refrigerator up to 1 month.