The mere word Zombie is one of the most evocative in the modern English language. Both the word and the things it evokes are simultaneously silly and scary.
What is a Zombie? It’s either a dead human somehow still able to stumble around mindlessly, or a drink that allegedly turns living humans into reasonable facsimiles of definition one.
The walking dead kind of zombies are scary because they’re, well, dead. And they want to eat your brains. An entire motion picture industry revolves around finding new ways to produce zombies and put them on screen.
They’re silly because… they are! In practical terms, monsters that move slower than a walk and have no mental acuity require some pretty mental acuity-free victims to chow down on. Memo to movie chicks: If you’d ditch the fragile, four-inch, come-bang-me heels, and instead wear sneakers or flats, the body-count in your films will drop down to something more on the order of The Wiggles: Hot Potato Live!. (Note: Hello to Twitter heads rolling in here from pyngvild!)
The Zombie cocktail is scary because it generally is brewed up with lots of alcohol, some of it traditionally high proof. Then you cover that fire-water up with fruit juices, and syrups, and crushed ice, and Tiki mugs, and paper umbrellas, and fog generators, laser light shows. Or whatever items among that list that you have on hand. Even wearing flats when drinking Zombies won’t save you from the fate of ending up flat on your face at the end of the scene.
The Zombie is silly because… it’s Tiki, damn it. And because it is such marvelous overkill.
Like many of the great Tiki cocktails, Don the Beachcomber claims to be the Zombie’s inventor, with typically scant evidence beyond the fact that he’s Don. And like many of the great Tiki cocktails, if you order one in 99.44% of bars today, you will receive an undrinkably sweet mess made with mostly 151, if you get one at all. It will likely be closer to the Bacardi Rum Punch you get on the Jolly Roger Pirate Cruises you find all over the Caribbean. In short, a modern Zombie is more of a maximum buzz for minimum pucker device, rather than a real cocktail. Which is neither spooky, nor silly, but simply sad.
The fact is, it is hard to establish what is the original Zombie recipe, since it appears in print from different sources, in different forms, all at about the same time. I will print Don’s (or what is alleged to be his, since he guarded his recipes quite jealously) here as a starting point:
- .75 oz. lime juice
- .5 oz. Don’s Mix
- .5 oz. falernum
- 1.5 oz. jamaican rum
- 1.5 oz. gold rum
- 1 oz. 151 demerara rum
- 1 dash Angustora bitters
- 6 drops Pernod
- 1 tsp. grenadine
- 1 cup crushed ice
Blend for five seconds then serve with a sprig of mint as garnish.
For the record, you approximate Don’s Mix with a 2-1 blend of grapefruit juice and cinnamon simple syrup.
This is not a bad drink. But it is just that, not a bad drink. The majesty of the Zombie comes when you slide into the sweet spot between this bare-bones presentation and the 1990’s debased rum kool-aid.
Last Thursday Drink Night was Zombie Night at the Mixosoleum. I think the Zombie was an excellent choice for the drunken chat room treatment. It is hard to completely screw up a Zombie, if your cocktail heart is pure. Just follow the basic rules of Zombie construction (eat your heart out, Hollywood) as illustrated by Don’s recipe:
- Include several rums, including one high-proof for scare factor.
- Mix in several juices, mostly tart or citrus.
- Add some spices and some sweetener.
- Blend it briefly.
In addition, time and evolved Tiki tradition demands more garnish than Don’s original sprig of mint.
I actually had some recipes ready for TDN, for the first time. One, the Red-Headed Zombie was a finalist for the night (Yay!), but got exactly zero votes (Boo!).
You didn’t vote for yourself?
Shut up. I forgot.
- 1 oz. Matusalem Gran Reserve
- 1 oz. Appleton V/X
- 1 oz. Mount Gay XO
- 1/2 oz. 151
- 1 oz. grapefruit juice
- 1.5 oz. Canton ginger liqueur
- 1 oz. orgeat
- .5 oz. cranberry juice
- .5 oz. pineapple juice
All I’ll say about my version is that Canton is awesome in the Zombie application. It is also the genesis of the name. Ginger, get it?
I have pictures of my Zombie that I took. But they stink on (crushed) ice compared to those taken by BOTI member, Rick Stutz. So I’ll rip his off here as I discuss garnish on a Zombie. I have made the case that the Zombie is one of the most over-the-top Tiki drinks there is, so it needs an over top garnish.
Here was my suggestion: Shake while dancing around like a grass-skirted witch doctor and strain into a pith helmet. Add ice to fill. Garnish with a pineapple spear.
Had I had a pith helmet to hand, you’d see the picture, no matter how dark and muddy. But since I didn’t, here is Rick’s picture, which shows a slightly elaborate but visually very appropriate garnish:
During Drink night itself, Rick offered a different picture. One which shows why you do not want to get into a knife fight with the Penguin.
Get the idea of what is needed for Zombie garnish?
The garnish I suggested for my other (less awesome!) Zombie will be the subject of a soon-to-follow post on Tiki garnishes themselves.