Cocktail of the Week: The Zombie Returns
Just the name of the Zombie cocktail is enough to scare many imbibers away. Like the daiquiri and the margarita, this timeless cocktail has been imitated and mutated far beyond its original form. But this legendary tipple has quite a history behind it.
The Zombie was created around 1934 by Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, who is considered is the founding father of tiki bars.
According to Wayne Curtis, author of “And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails,” Gantt, who had spent much of his youth rambling about, arrived in Los Angeles just as Prohibition was drawing to an end. He rented a small bar and decorated it with items he’d gathered in the South Pacific, along with driftwood, old nets and parts of wrecked boats he scavenged from the beach.
Gantt stocked his bar with inexpensive rums, which were available in abundance after prohibition, and invented an array of faux-tropical drinks, using fruit juices and exotic liqueurs.
Gantt called his place Don the Beachcomber’s. It became incredibly fashionable, attracting celebrities and eventually expanded to multiple locations. The joint became so much part of his personality that Gantt legally renamed himself Donn Beach. According to the museum of the American cocktail, the first Zombie was whipped one morning to revive a hungover customer around 1934. His verdict: “I feel like the living dead; it made a zombie out of me.” It was later said that Gantt limited his customers to two zombies apiece.
The drink became wildly popular. Donn guarded his recipe closely, but rival mixologists made their own versions and inferior cocktails flooded the bar scene. While the tiki trend has faded, versions of the Zombie can be found in retro bars and Asian restaurants. Many of them bare little resemblance to the original.
Despite the kitschy gimmicks, Gantt was actually a talented mixologist. He pioneered the use of multiple rums in cocktails, resulting is a rich and layered flavor. His recipes were closely guarded secrets – they were published in code or contained secret formulas.
Jeff “Beach Bum” Berry, author of several books on tiki culture including “Sippin’ Safari,” “Grog Log” and “Intoxica,” spent years tacking down Gantt’s Zombie recipe. Berry actually turned up three different recipes from varying years - apparently Gantt modified the ingredients over time. The original formula, Berry believes, comes from the1934 recipe for Zombie Punch in a little black book belonging to a former waiter at Don the Beachcomber’s. The recipe called for an ingredient called “Don’s Mix” which Berry deciphered to be a mixture of grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup.
The ingredient list for the Zombie is lengthy compared many of today’s highballs, but it results in a cocktail with a rich palette of flavor. It tastes both tart and sweet yet refreshing. But do beware: This drink’s smooth fruity flavor covers up the fact that it contains three shots of rum – so enjoying too many zombies could easily turn you into one.
Zombie Punch from Jeff "Beach Bum" Berry’s "Sippin’ Safari"”
.75 oz Lime Juice . 5 oz Don’s Mix (2 parts grapefruit juice, 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup) 5 oz Falernum 1.5 oz Jamaican Rum 1.5 oz Gold Puerto Rican Rum 1 oz 151 Demerara Rum 1 dash Angostura Bitters 1/8th tsp Herbsaint or Pernod 1 tsp Grenadine .75 cup crushed ice
Put everything into a blender, saving ice for last. Blend at high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a chimney glass and fill with ice. Garnish with fresh mint.
Ingredients to make the Zombie may be purchased at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown.