Sunday, July 14, 2024

Tales of the Cocktail: Rise of the Zombie: Tiki’s Deadly Drink

August 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Spirits Events

The Zombie rehabilitated rum, and was a punch in the face of thse who had wanted prohibition to last. As part of the TIki craze, with its giant restaurant complexes looking like cartoonized Polynesian villages, with 3 story tall statues and rickshaw ramps , the Zombie was a crazily complicated cocktail, with secret ingredients, helping to maintain it’s exotic, almost alien, allure in what was already a fairly wild and unreal landscape.

_DSC5973-0600wide _DSC5968-0600wide

Tiki Origins

But like all things Tiki, it was a mishmash of prior decidedly non-Polynesian ideas reblended. While much of Tiki’s food was renamed variants on Cantonese cuisine, morphed into fine dining, most TIki cocktails also were drawn from decidedly non-Polynesian origins. Don the Beachcomber originally adapted his early cocktails from Caribbean styles of drinking, starting with adapting the traditional Planter’s Punch, but adding precisely measured ice and a blender, and created what was one of the first supposed Tiki cocktails. The tradition of proportions being 1:2:3:4:5 for Planters Punch suffered a bit in this, but this recipe ended up having dimensions added. Not just 1 strong spirit, but 2 or 3 different rums to be that “3 parts strong”.


And with this, Don the Beachcomber was perhaps the first to regularly mix rums, to get added depth and character to his drinks. Light bright notes of a Cuban, dark spicy notes of a Barbados, all together creating something new. Other than rum, few other spirits are ever combined, still. Do you often see two whisked or two gins in one cocktail?

The depth and exotic character of his “rum rhapsody”, cocktails, not to mention the octane, made them incredibly popular. The flavors were brand new to the West Coast. While the early inspirations for these could have been found by East Coast people traveling to Cuba during Prohibition, on the west, the Prohibition destination was Mexico, and they didn’t make such cocktails there.

Zombie Hunting

But Don’s crowning achievement was the Zombie. The recipe was kept secret and never fully shared, since he had problems with bartenders realizing that they could make better money at competitors and copycats in other cities. This secrecy gave him the upper hand, then, but his reluctance to share any recipes is why his name has not been treated as well by history as Trader Vic who did share.

So with this secrecy comes the desire to find the truth, and over many years, that’s what Beachbum Barry has been slowly zeroing in upon. There are known and published recipes purporting to be *The* Zombie recipe from 1956, 1950, even as far back as 1934. The encoded and sometimes inscrutable annotations such as “Munrelaf”, “Markeza”, “Syrup Parisienne”, and just a string of numbers like #2, #3, #4, etc., made for an interesting quest. Obviously “Munrelaf” was Falernum. But “Markeza”?

_DSC6032-0600wide _DSC6012-0600wide

After years of research and dead ends and of course Barry publishing what was the wrong recipe, Jennifer Santiago handed over her father’s recipes from his Beachcomber days. It was still partly in code. Don’s Mix was still unknown, except a further cryptic note which referred to Don’s drops #4, which led to a search for Astra Flavors, now defunct, and finding bartenders who had also used that flavoring back in the day.


And, of course, the original rums are no longer made, either. But Barry did have some suggestions regarding substitutions for those “lost” ingredients:

  • To recreate the aged Jamaican “Lounds London Dock Rum”, mix a roughly 5:1 ratio of Appleton and either Smith & Cross or Plantation Weatherford.
  • The Puerto Rican rum described was actually dark, not just a gold, and was only really made under the Ron Rico red label. Closest available these days would be Ron de Barrilito Three Star.


Comments are closed.