Created by famous bartender Donn Beach, the Zombie cocktail is one hell of a drink: Three different types of Rums, fruit juices, cocktail bitters, Falernum, and the list goes on. Beach also added one of his signature ingredients to the drink, Donn's Mix.
The amount of ingredients is almost intimidating. The fact that Beach kept his recipe secret and occasionally changed it doesn't make things any easier.
And because often it happens that somebody doesn't have all the necessary ingredients at hand, this drink has countless riffs and variations.
Amongst those are versions of bartending legends like Trader Vic, creator of the Mai Tai, and Jeff Beachbum Berry.
Read on when you want to learn more about Donn Beach's unique ingredients and how he invented the Zombie cocktail.
History of the Zombie cocktail
Donn Beach invented the Zombie cocktail in the 1930s at his legendary bar - Don the Beachcomber. Beach served many rum-based drinks and started the modern Tiki cocktail culture.
His Zombie cocktail even seems to have had a particular intention. Apparently, Beach created this complex concoction with the purpose of curing a hangover, just like the Corpse Reviver.
The story goes that Donn Beach mixed it for a hungover customer helping him to get through an important business meeting.
Presumably, Beach overdid it with the alcohol levels because his customer is said to have pointed out that the drink was so strong that he somehow felt like a Zombie. But at least it seems he managed to get through the meeting.
Beach, too, was aware of how potent his creation was. Therefore, he limited the number of Zombies served per customer to two per day in his bar. He explained that one more would make you "like the walking dead."
What's also worth mentioning is that he used his legendary secret formula - the so-called Donn's Mix - to enrich the flavors of the Zombie cocktail. So let's look a little closer at the ingredients.
All ingredients you need to make a Zombie cocktail
Donn Beach made a habit of keeping the recipes for his cocktails a secret. He sometimes even used cryptic references for some ingredients, so only he knew what exactly went into his shaker.
Luckily, there are curious and persistent people like Jeff Beachbum Berry. He published a book called Sippin' Safari, containing many recipes for Tiki cocktails.
Berry did quite some research for this, interviewing countless bartenders from Don the Beachcomber and many other famous Tiki places.
As a result, his gem of a book also shows the development of the Zombie cocktail over time as it contains three different recipes created between 1934 and 1956.
The original recipe contained the following: three different kinds of Rum, lime juice, Angostura bitters, Falernum, Pernod, Grenadine, and -of course- Donn's Mix. Our recipe also calls for the addition of pineapple juice.
The types of Rums used vary from recipe to recipe. It could be overproof Rums, spiced Rums, Jamaican and Puerto Rican Rum, white Cuban Rum, and so on.
One type that pops up in many recipes is 151 Rum. And perhaps you guessed it already, the 151 stands for the proof of the spirit. With 75,5 % ABV, those Rums are way above the usual 40 - 45%.
Overproof is a term for Rums ranging from 100 - 151 proof. So as per definition, this one is a seriously overproof Rum, right at the top of the scale.
Juices in a Zombie
Lime and pineapple juice are both evergreens in tropical cocktails. They perform some real magic when you squeeze them from fresh and ripe fruit.
Please don't use packed juice made from concentrate. They are a sure way to mess up what could otherwise have been a brilliant drink.
Pernod is the anise spirit of choice for our Zombie. It is often named when a recipe calls for Absinthe. However, technically, the two are not the same.
During the century Absinthe was banned due to the false belief that it would cause hallucinations, people needed something to replace it.
Like Absinthe, Pernod has a green color, a strong anise flavor, and a high ABV. As opposed to Absinthe, it is made without wormwood, which was thought to literally be the root of all evil in the Green Fairy.
Today, Pernod and Absinthe are often used interchangeably in mixed drinks. Read more in the post about Pernod vs. Absinthe.
The Zombie cocktail contains three different kinds of syrups: Falernum, Grenadine, and Donn's Mix.
The first, Falernum, can be non-alcoholic or alcoholic (Velvet Falernum). It's somewhat of a spicier version of orgeat and carries notes of ginger, cloves, lime, almond, and allspice berries.
For the Zombie, both version works, the alcohol-free syrup or Velvet Falernum.
Grenadine is a sweet, bright red syrup made from pomegranate and often frowned upon in the world of mixology for its artificial taste. So to get a more natural flavor, you can consider making a DIY grenadine at home.
And the third syrup is Donn's Mix. An ingredient that sounds pretty mysterious but actually can be made quite easily.
How to make Donn's Mix
As mentioned before, Donn's Mix is an ingredient Donn Beach commonly included in his cocktail creations.
Eventually, someone uncovered that Donn's Mix is a delicious mix of cinnamon and grapefruit juice. And the best part is, you can easily make this at home. All you have to do is make a cinnamon-flavored simple syrup and then mix it with grapefruit juice.
So let's start with the cinnamon-simple syrup:
Use one cup of sugar, one cup of water, and three cinnamon sticks. Bring everything to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Then remove from heat and let the syrup cool down.
Now, you need to mix your cinnamon syrup with fresh grapefruit juice. For this, use one part syrup and two parts grapefruit juice.
Et voila, you just created Donn's mix. This invaluable ingredient should be used up within 2-3 weeks.
- 1 Jigger
- 1 Blender
- 1.5 oz Havana Club 3-year-old Rum
- 1 oz Overproof pot still Rum
- 0.75 oz 151 Rum
- 0.5 oz Falernum
- 1/8 bsp Pernod
- 1 oz Pineapple juice
- 0.5 oz Lime juice
- 0.5 oz Donn's Mix
- 1 bsp Grenadine
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- The Zombie is a blended cocktail. That means, pour all ingredients except the Angostura bitters in your blender with 6 oz of crushed ice.1.5 oz Havana Club 3-year-old Rum, 1 oz Overproof pot still Rum, 0.75 oz 151 Rum, 0.5 oz Falernum, 1/8 bsp Pernod, 1 oz Pineapple juice, 0.5 oz Lime juice, 0.5 oz Donn's Mix, 1 bsp Grenadine
- Blend shortly (4-6 seconds) at high speed.
- Pour the drink into your favorite Tiki mug over ice and garnish with a fresh mint sprig.
- Add two dashes of Angostura bitters and enjoy your Zombie.2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 comments on “The Zombie Cocktail”
Grenadine is made pomegranate (the French word for pomegranate is Grenadine) not cranberry. You can make your own with 2 cups sugar and 1 cup pomegranate juice
Hi Jeff, thanks a lot for pointing that out. Don’t know how cranberry ended up in here, we must have had a short blackout 😅