How to Make the Classic Tiki Cocktail – Robb Report

There is always a patient zero. The beginning. This first point which springs up locally, then flows regionally and becomes a wave which invades the globe. And in the case of tiki drinks, patient zero is, appropriately, the Zombie.

Before anyone ever heard of a Mai Thai or one Pina Colada, the Zombie was, for some time, the most famous, if not the most infamous, drink in the world. “Notorious would be an understatement,” writes Martin Cate in his book pan-tiki Smugglers’ Cove, calling it “Donn’s most famous and deadly concoction”. The “Donn” here is Donn Beach, born Ernest Raymont Gantt, who in the early 1930s was repatriated to Los Angeles after years of wandering through the Caribbean and the South Pacific. His travels had given him a taste for Rum and a sense of how to mix it up, with a few dumpsters of wrecks and a quiver full of adventure stories, and in 1934, at the age of 27, he combined all those gifts to open this which we now understand to be the world’s first tiki bar, which he would call Don the Beachcomber.

Americans never had cocktails like that – tropical fruits with heavy spices and rums blended in for cumulative effect – and the Zombie was the most popular of them all. But what makes the Zombie so “famous and deadly?” For starters, it was fun and wildly delicious. But more importantly, the quantities of rum were heroic even for a sailor. By most accounts, there are 4 oz. mind with one of these overproof. Word of this combustible mix spread and Beach, a marketing genius as he was a gifted mixologist, leaned in by adding a little note to the Zombie on his cocktail menu: “Limit two.”

Never before have three words so captured the imagination of the drinking public. Limit of two! This supposed warning worked magic. People simply had to try this cocktail so strong that the bar itself restricted its consumption, and Don the Beachcomber quickly earned the nickname “Zombie Palace”. The contestants tried everything to deduct, riff or otherwise steal the recipe, and found themselves foiled by Beach’s anti-theft measures (more on that below), just made up their own version, calling it a Zombie and insistent, on their own menus, customers would be limited to just two each. Tiki as a social craze would peak in the early 1960s, but already in 1940 the writer and epicurean Lucius Beebe would have noted that there were so many places serving the drink, it would soon be “possible to cross the continent without ever emerging from a zombie swoon”. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry calls the Zombie “the drink that launched a thousand tiki bars”.

Even the hyper-obstinate curmudgeon David Embury can’t quite get over the charms of the zombie. writing in his The art of mixing drinks in 1948, Embury admits that the taste of the cocktail is “not bad at all”, but spends four paragraphs insulting it, offended by this “limit of two” trade, which he calls “the least form of advertising Dear”. He hadn’t finished. Calling the Zombie “undoubtedly the most over-hyped, over-emphasized, over-hyped and foolishly dreaded drink whose claims to fame have ever assaulted the eyes and ears of the gullible American public”. But then, after describing the recipe, he can’t help but join in the fun: “There you go, brother, your zombie, grandfather of all elves and great-uncle of gremlins.”


If you have crushed ice, add all the ingredients to the shaker with crushed ice, shake for six to eight seconds, pour into a tall glass and top with crushed ice. If you don’t, put everything in a blender with 6 oz. freeze and blend on high for five seconds. Garnish with a sprig of mint.


Photo: courtesy Bacardí

Recipe: Beach was notoriously paranoid about his recipes and even hid them from his own bartenders. He mixed his ingredients himself in secret, then gave them to his staff in code: ask a bartender at Don the Beachcomber how to make a zombie and he would reply, “Easy, take some spice #4, mix um with Rum Blend #2…” Because of this, the Zombie was lost, seemingly forever, until it was unearthed by tiki archaeologist Jeff “Beachbum” Berry circa 2005. So all of this for say we’re pretty sure we know what was in there, but there’s easily half a dozen zombies, all very different from each other, and it’s hard to say what’s correct or not . Above is the best we can say.

Rum(s): It’s an exceptionally difficult drink to get exactly, and the secret to it is the variety and quantity of rum. If you’re not in the mood for something strong, I recommend choosing another drink. Not enough rum and this recipe tastes loaded and confusing – enough rum and the planets suddenly align.

Annoyingly, this requires three types of rum: a light aged rum (something like Plantation 5, Bacardi 8Don Q or similar), a funky Jamaican rum (Blacksmith & CrossHampden Estates or similar) and an overproof rum (OFTD planting, Hamilton’s Demerara 151 or similar). If the first two are strong enough, you can get away with using less of the latter. My advice if you’re feeling sheepish is to start with a lighter hand and add to taste.

Cinnamon syrup: Take 4 oz. sugar, 4 oz. of water and 1 cinnamon stick that you have broken into a few pieces, put it on the fire and stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for five minutes, then cool and strain. This can be done with 1 or 2 tbsp. ground cinnamon, but it will be grainy and not as good. Recipe makes 6 oz. of cinnamon syrup, or enough for a whole wailing troop of Zombies.

Falernum: As stated in our discussion on the corn and oil, falernum is supposed to be a rum-based liqueur made in Barbados, but falernums can be all over the map, both in spice content (mild to extremely heavy) and alcohol content (0-35% ). The one that has all the required authenticity claims and also generally looks better in cocktails is Velvet Falernum by John D. Taylor, which is cheap and relatively available. The only other thing to say about this is that you can make your own, which involves toasting almonds and zesting limes, and if you’re the type of person who gets into it, I guess you have already tried it.

Grenadine: Good grenadine is made by mixing sugar and pomegranate juice, adding a splash of pomegranate molasses and flavoring it all with rose or orange blossom water. It’s great, and if you have it, use it, but it’s used in such small amounts here – a teaspoon, to sweeten the absinthe and give a hint of tart fruit – that you could honestly just 1 scoop coffee. of pomegranate juice and call it a day.

Absinthe: It’s incredibly easy to overdo the absinthe here, and this tip is for home use, so I’m tempted to tell you just avoid it. How is it: If you have absinthe or Herbsaint lying around, use it, no more than half a dash, about six to 10 drops. If you don’t, don’t worry.