The History Of The Zombie Cocktail.
On the menu, it seems from day one, or at least very soon after, the Zombie is one of Donn Beach’s most famous tiki cocktails. The Zombie was so strong that it would put someone into a blackout drunk automaton state. The Zombie proved to be so renowned it was probably one of Donn’s most copied cocktails. Even though Donn tried to keep the recipe a secret, even from his bartenders, Zombies started popping up at other tiki bars all over the USA. The Aku Aku at the Sahara Casino in Las Vegas, La Mariana Sailing Club in Honolulu, The Tonga Room in San Francisco, and Even Trader Vic’s had a Zombie on the menu (but he did credit Donn for inventing it). The Zombie gained the slogan of being often imitated but never duplicated. As with all Donn Beach cocktails, there is no definitive recipe because he never published them and kept them secret from everyone, even the staff. You couldn’t do anything like that today with allergies and such. You don’t want to be known as the bar that withheld information that ended up killing somebody. Donn is also believed to have changed the Zombie recipe several times to improve it and stay ahead of the competition.
I also find it very cool that he went with this name as Night of the Living Dead didn’t debut till 1968, starting the American zombie craze. Zombies are also traditionally Haitian folklore and not Polynesian. This shows that Tiki was a mish-mash of exotic island Hollywood imagery and not something born of actually Polynesian tradition.
From just looking at the Don the Beachcomber menus, nothing is exciting. It just has the zombie listed as a cocktail with a little voodoo man next to it on some versions. If you wish to google it yourself and check it out, the primary menu years you can find online are 1934, 1941, and 1954, and there is a separate 1960s drink menu.
What Does The Zombie Cocktail Taste Like?
This drink will knock you on your ass. It goes down like a tropical Long Island Ice Tea, and I won’t lie, I had just one of these (the one in the picture), and I had a hard time walking straight. In 1934 Don the Beachcomber sold these for $2.00 and had a limit of 2, and even that seems a bit generous. This cocktail is perfect and very successful at having just enough juice and sweetener not to make the volume of booze overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very alcohol forward, and you feel it, but it toes the line that even a non-old fashion drinker would like it—something the Long Island does not do.
Zombie Cocktail Variations.
There are as many zombie variations as there are bartenders, and that’s fine, considering there is no definitive known recipe. The recipe I have provided here is the Jeff “Beachbum” Berry recipe, as it is regarded as the most accurate and probably the closest to one of Donn Beach’s Zombies. Again, Donn was thought to have changed the recipe several times, so this may be an amalgamation of several versions.
The Most Important Ingredient.
The essential ingredient in the Zombie is the 151. Surprising right? It’s only a half-ounce float on top, but the 151 you use will make or break this cocktail. I personally like Lemon Hart’s 151. It’s the original and surprisingly flavorful for being such a high proof. Donn Beach was said to hunt for this particular brand because it was just that good, and I agree with that. Other lighter 151s add booze (Granted, this cocktail doesn’t need more), but the Lemon Hart ads booze and flavor. If you do not find this particular brand, I would try using a navy strength (57% ABV) rum that is a bit darker in color instead. For an excellent article on 151 and its history, check out this link to The Lone Canner. The Lone Canner also has a great article on the proof system, its history, and technical details here.