Recipes: The Infamous Zombie Cocktail Might Turn You Into, Well, a Zombie
Cut to the crux of tiki culture and two names matter: Donn Beach and Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr. For three decades, a lively rivalry between the two iconic bartenders created a cocktail craze that pervaded the entire drinks world (and in recent years has enjoyed a serious revival).
But if you’re looking for one drink that sums up the tiki movement—more even than the Mai Tai, Jungle Bird and the more modern Rum Runner—it might be the Zombie cocktail. Infamously boozy, the drink was sold in limited quantities by Beach, its creator.
Intrigued? Here’s everything to know about it.
What’s in a Zombie Cocktail?
“A mysterious and foreboding mixture, [it’s] meant to be consumed with the knowledge you may not remember it,” says Dave Bulters, bar manager at Wind Cries Mary in Victoria, Canada.
Modern iterations call for a boozy blend of multiple rums, anise liqueur, falernum, bitters, lime juice, grenadine and “Don’s Mix”—aka two parts grapefruit juice to one part cinnamon syrup. According to The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, the Zombie is basically a “powerful punch.”
The Zombie traces its legend back to Hollywood, where it was invented in 1934 by Beach, who opened the very first tiki bar, Don the Beachcomber’s. In American Under the Influence, writer Chloë Rae Edmonson reveals that a 1941 menu from Don the Beachcomber’s describes the drink as “a carefully crafted concoction that took Donn months of research and dozens of bottles of rum to perfect.”
You May Also Like: The Best Ways to Use Anise Spirits, According to Drinks Pros
Why Is It Called a Zombie Cocktail?
Edmonson continues that a more colorful origin story describes it as a hangover cure for a traveling salesman about to give a big presentation. Later, “the businessman told Beach the drink had made him feel ‘like the living dead—it made a zombie out of me!’”
It became a media sensation. Beach’s bar—a well-known hangout for movie stars of the time—refused to sell more than two per person. Beach kept his recipe a closely-held secret, and copycat Zombies abounded. Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari by Jeff Berry notes three different recipes were developed for the drink dating from 1934 to 1956.
One thing is for sure, notes Kent Thompson, bar director at Isla in Santa Monica, California, “the Zombie cocktail is bold, aggressive and fun.”
How to Make a Zombie Cocktail
Recipe by Jacy Topps
- 1 ½ ounces light rum (preferably Puerto Rican)
- 1 ounce dark rum (preferably Jamaican)
- 1 ounce overproof rum
- ¾ ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
- ½ ounce falernum liqueur
- 2 ounces pineapple juice
- ½ ounce Don’s Mix*
- ½ ounce grenadine
- 2 dashes bitters
- 3 dashes anise liqueur
- Mint sprig, for garnish
- Cherry, for garnish
In a blender with about 5 ounces of crushed ice, combine all ingredients (except garnishes) and blend for only 5 seconds. Pour into a hurricane glass or tall glass and add crushed ice to fill. Garnish with the mint sprig and cherry.
*How to Make Don’s Mix
Bring 1 cup water, 3 crushed cinnamon sticks and 1 cup sugar to a boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Simmer for two to three minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for at least two hours before straining the syrup into a glass bottle. To finish the mix, add 1 part cinnamon syrup to 2 parts freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Keep refrigerated for up to two weeks.
How Much Alcohol Is in a Zombie?
It “depends which rums you use, but it’s safe to say it has a good kick,” says Bulters. “Especially if you use a decent amount of overproof rum.” We certainly suggest making sure you have a ride home after consuming more than one. After all, the Beachcomber limited customers to two per visit.
For an easy reference point, Thompson says a “Zombie is about a martini and a half.”
What’s an Egyptian Zombie?
“There’s a lot of wiggle room when it comes to cocktails that have been around for a number of years,” says Bulters. “[That’s] because of defunct or hard-to-find ingredients, or just because bartenders were notoriously secretive about their recipes for a while there.”
An Egyptian Zombie is “a lower-ABV, blackberry twist on the original cocktail,” according to Bulters. It’s served onboard some Princess Cruises ships and features white rum, dark rum, blackberry brandy, sour mix, grenadine, orange juice and pineapple juice.
Last Updated: October 20, 2023