The Zombie: ‘Mother of all Freak Drinks’

Cocktail guru David Wondrich calls the Zombie ‘the mother of all freak drinks’. Which makes me wonder if I even want to attempt this cocktail. But if freaky can mean sexy and bad can mean good and phat can mean pretty hot and tempting. Then the phrase ‘the mother of all freak drinks’ can mean just about anything. So start mixing ‘cuz here I go…

You probably associate the Zombie with the tiki bars of the 1950s. But it actually made its appearance well before that. In fact, it is said to be the invention of Earnest Raymond Beaumont Gantt and Cora Irene Sund, better known on these pages as Don the Beachcomber and Sunny Sund, owners of the iconic old Hollywood restaurant Don the Beachcomber. I told their whole story already when I introduced you to Rumaki. CLICK here for all the details.

David Wondrich credits the inspiration for this cocktail ‘as liquid CPR for some poor SOB experiencing death by hangover’. But I have also read that Don first whipped one up for a friend who was traveling cross-country by airplane and needed some liquid courage. In any case, the Zombie has stumbled arms first into the consciousness of the American cocktail culture. A true party drink. By the time tiki culture went rogue, the Zombie, with all its nefarious ‘no-more-than-two-to-a-customer charms’ became the ultimate symbol of alcoholic bravado.


night of the living dead posterIt’s hard to pinpoint exactly what constitutes a proper Zombie. There are many, many variations. But there is one constant in all the preparations I have seen– booze, in the form of rum. According to the original recipe, there is the equivalent of 7.5 ounces of alcohol in a single Zombie; this is the same as drinking three and a half cocktails made with a fairly generous 2 ounces of alcohol per drink. Don The Beachcomber’s limit of two-to-a-customer, therefore, would be the equivalent of 7 regular cocktails such as a Manhattan or Scotch on the rocks. The version I am presenting is a bit lighter, but still, death defying with its 5 ounces of booze per serving.

I’ll admit, even after making this cocktail I am not completely sold on this mind-altering concoction of 3 kinds of rum and 3 kinds of fruit juice. It may be a little too much of everything for my tastes. But I try to put in its historical perspective. Because this deceptively smooth glass of velvet dynamite certainly must have been a jubilant reaction to the end of prohibition. What a party that must have been. I am glad I wasn’t around though, I can just imagine the hangover.

Oh, and that rule about two-to-a-customer, well that may have been two too many! But you make one and be the judge for yourself. Just don’t come stumbling after me like it’s the Night of the Living Dead.

Zombie serves 1 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 1 oz light rum
  • 1 oz gold rum
  • 1 oz dark rum
  • 1/2 oz apricot brandy
  • 1 oz creme de banane
  • 1 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 oz grenadine
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • 1/2 oz 151- proof rum
  • mint or tropical fruit for garnish

Pour in all the liquid ingredients except the 151-proof rum into a cocktail shaker 2/3 filled with ice. Shake vigorously; strain into a tall ice-filled glass. Pour the 151-proof rum over the back of a spoon, floating it on top. Garnish with mint or fruit.


Greg Henry