Mai-Kai cocktail review: A near-perfect Zombie, the classic deadly cocktail

Updated Dec. 26, 2016
See below: Our Zombie review | Ancestor recipes | NEW: Tribute recipe 3.0
Related: Zombie Horde book | Zombie facts | Beachbum Berry symposium
Mai-Kai cocktail guide
More recipes: Altered State Zombie | Atomic Zombie | Guyanese Zombie
The Undead Gentleman | Frankie’s Tiki Room Zombie

Few realize that the Zombie – not the Mai Tai – is the drink that kicked off the tropical drink craze. Created in the 1930s by the Dr. Frankenstein of tropical mixology, Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber), the Zombie remains his masterpiece.

Zombie

Beach’s mad scientist approach to combining multiple rums, juices, syrups and spices was groundbreaking and set a standard that remains an influential touchstone for today’s bartenders in both the Tiki and craft cocktail worlds. But if it weren’t for cocktail sleuth, historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, we might not have ever discovered that legacy.

Berry rescued the Zombie (and many other Tiki classics) from bad bartending and half-assed attempts to re-create the originals. But his first attempt at the Zombie in his seminal 1998 book, Grog Log, was not a whole lot better than the imitators. By 2002, however, he had begun to unearth some great Zombie recipes, three of which are published in his second recipe book, Intoxica. One of these, later dubbed the “mid-century version” and purported to be a Don the Beachcomber recipe published in 1950, is shown below.

But Berry was just scratching the surface of Zombie lore. His 2007 masterpiece, Sippin’ Safari, yielded the motherlode. An entire chapter, “A Zombie Jamoreee: The Curse of the Undead Drink,” provides the definitive research on the elusive cocktail. There’s more background on the 1950 Zombie, plus a much different 1956 version attributed to the Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Waikiki.

Beachbum Berry mixes a classic Zombie at the Zombie Jam at The Mai-Kai on April 25, 2011

Beachbum Berry mixes a classic Zombie at the Zombie Jam at The Mai-Kai on April 25, 2011.

The pièce de résistance, however, is Berry’s discovery of a 1934 recipe for “Zombie Punch” in the notebook of 1930s Don the Beachcomber bartender Dick Santiago. The find was considered the Holy Grail of lost tropical drinks, but one frustrating puzzle remained to be solved: the cryptic ingredient listed as “Don’s Mix.” This combination of grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup has now become a common ingredient, but the 2007 revelation was a landmark in the Tiki drink world. Berry is working on a 10th anniversary edition of Sippin’ Safari, which he says will include additional recipes, both old and unpublished, plus new ones from the Tiki revival.
* BeachbumBerry.com: More on Berry’s search for the original Zombie

In 2010, Beachbum Berry Remixed continued the tradition of digging deeper into the history of the drink that started it all. In addition to the discoveries in Intoxica and Sippin’ Safari, Berry presented several new recipes, including a simplified version of the complex creation. You can also find Berry’s Zombie recipes in his Total Tiki app for iPhone and iPad, a unique repository of nearly 250 exotic drink recipes from yesterday and today. If you desire a more tactile way to enjoy Berry’s handiwork, pick up a set (or a case) of his signature Zombie Glasses from Cocktail Kingdom, which include the original 1934 and 1950 recipes on the side along with distinctive artwork and packaging. They’re also available at the author’s New Orleans bar and restaurant, Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, along with the Bum’s own twist on the vintage recipe.

A contemporary Zombie from "Beachbum Berry Remixed."

A contemporary Zombie from “Beachbum Berry Remixed.”

In addition to his acclaimed books, app and barware, Berry had a profound influence on today’s Tiki and cocktail scenes over the past decade or two by way of his entertaining and boozy symposiums around the world. His first-ever Zombie seminar took place at The Mai-Kai in April 2011 during the Miami Rum Fest. He resurrected that talk at The Hukilau in April 2012, again at The Mai-Kai, with a few additional surprises. [Full coverage]

Of course, The Mai-Kai’s Zombie is a descendant of Don the Beachcomber’s classics. There’s a reason it’s still the top-rated cocktail in this guide, and the only one with a perfect rating of 5 out of 5 stars. Perhaps its the complex, undefinable flavors. Much like another early 20th-century classic, the Singapore Sling, the Zombie stands out as a true original with its intense flavors and high potency.

But unlike the gin-based Sling, which is a bit of a mish-mash of flavors, the Zombie is in perfect balance. The combination of spices are exotic and unique. The sweet juices and syrups are counteracted by intense anise and sour notes. And the coup de grâce is the combination of three rums in perfect harmony.

A 1958 ad for The Mai-Kai featuring Mariano Licudine

A 1958 ad for The Mai-Kai featuring Mariano Licudine.

The Mai-Kai’s Zombie is certainly derivative of Donn Beach’s original, yet it’s a lot more approachable and less intimidating. The traditional mint and hints of anise from the 1934 recipe are present, but the overall flavor is less intense, and there’s a great underlying sweetness similar to the 1950 Zombie. It manages to combine the best elements of the two most popular variations – the 1934 and 1950 classics – into one deadly and delicious drink.

Much of the credit has to go to master mixologist Mariano Licudine, who worked at Don the Beachcomber (in Los Angeles and Chicago) from 1939 until coming to The Mai-Kai when it opened in 1956. He was tasked by owners Bob and Jack Thornton with taking the classic recipes they enjoyed at their hometown Don the Beachcomber in Chicago and adapting them to the tourist-heavy crowd at their grand new Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale. According to current owner Dave Levy, his stepfather Bob Thornton worked closely with Licudine to perfect the recipes in order to give them a distinct Mai-Kai flair.
* Related: Discover a fruitful and delicious tropical drink family tree

By all accounts, their mission was a smashing success. Some 60 years later, The Mai-Kai is a historic landmark and its Zombie is a cocktail institution. Licudine’s recipes are still being followed religiously more than three decades after he retired.

Original owners Bob Thornton (left) and Jack Thornton (right) with master mixologist Mariano Licudine. (From Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

Original owners Bob Thornton (left) and Jack Thornton (right) with master mixologist Mariano Licudine. (From Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant)

DECEMBER 2016 UPDATE: Some of Licudine’s secrets lie dormant, only to be resurrected years later. This became evident in late 2016, when a secret mix known as “#7” was reintroduced by Levy, the managing owner. It had been put on the shelf years earlier when crucial ingredients became unavailable, Levy said. The return of #7 adds a big, bold flavor to cocktails such as the Zombie. It features strong anise notes and what appears to be falernum, so we’ve posted our own version below along with a new tribute recipe.

It’s possible that #7 may even be a link back to Don the Beachcomber. In his new book, Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant (2016, Schiffer), Tim “Swanky” Glazner writes about the influence of Donn Beach on The Mai-Kai, along with the calculated way in which the Thornton brothers hired away key staff from the Chicago outpost of the Beachcomber chain.

This included Licudine as well as a manager who had access to all the secret syrups and mixes. The book refers to something known as “Don’s Spices #7” as being “crucial to the Zombie and other signature cocktails.” It’s possible that The Mai-Kai’s Zombie is now even closer to Beach’s original than we know, thanks to the wisdom of owners old and new keeping an emphasis on tradition and respect for the classics alive.

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The official menu description
Zombie
ZOMBIE

Powerful, but the smoothest Zombie you’ll ever drink. Savor slowly this potent potion or you’ll cast your lot with the poor souls for whom this drink was named.

Okole Maluna Society review and rating

Size: Medium

Potency: Strong

Flavor profile: Strong rums accented by a cavalcade of flavors, most notably lime, passion fruit and anise. The rich sweetness is countered by hints of grapefruit and mint, all in perfect harmony.

Zombie, October 2014

Zombie, October 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Review: The most perfect example of a classic Tiki cocktail on The Mai-Kai menu.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (see how it ranks)

Ancestry: A slight variation of the Don the Beachcomber originals, the Zombie has been on The Mai-Kai’s menu since 1956. Our theory is the drink combines the best elements of Donn Beach’s 1934 and 1950 Zombies (see recipes below).

Bilge: The drink that Donn Beach famously restricted to two per customer has not lost any of its allure. You can find a variation of the original at most of today’s top Tiki bars, from the Tiki-Ti in Los Angeles to Latitude 29 in New Orleans to Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco. In 2013, writer David J. Montgomery (aka Professor Cocktail) released the ultimate Zombie recipe book, Professor Cocktail’s Zombie Horde: Recipes for the World’s Most Lethal Drink. Featuring 86 recipes from 1934 to 2013, the book chronicles the famous drink’s rise, fall and re-animation during the current craft cocktail renaissance. [See review]

Agree or disagree? Share your reviews and comments below!

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ANCESTOR RECIPES

Zombie Punch (1934)
(From Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari and Remixed)

Zombie Punch (1934) by The Atomic Grog (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2011)

Zombie Punch (1934) by The Atomic Grog (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2011)

* 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce Don’s Mix (see below)
* 1/2 ounce falernum (Fee Brothers recommended)
* 1 1/2 ounces gold Puerto Rican rum
* 1 1/2 ounces aged Jamaican rum
* ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* Dash Angostura bitters
* 6 drops (1/8 teaspoon) Pernod
* 1 teaspoon real pomegranate grenadine
* 6 ounces (3/4 cup) crushed ice.

Put everything into a blender, saving ice for last. Blend at high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a chimney glass and add ice cubes to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.

“At first glance, the recipe appears to be an unwieldy ratio of ingredients that don’t seem like they should work,” writes Martin Cate in Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki, the comprehensive new book (co-written with Martin’s wife, Rebecca) that expertly delves into the history of Tiki cocktails. “It is a testament to Donn’s deft skills as a mixologist and his understanding of the interplay of ingredients that seemingly impossible recipes form complex and engaging masterpieces.” Cate serves the 1934 Zombie pretty much note for note at Smuggler’s Cove.

Don the Beachcomber’s very own menu touts the Zombie as “the result of a long and expensive process of evolution” that involved 3 1/2 cases of assorted rums finding their way down the drain “so that you may now enjoy this potent ‘mender of broken dreams’.” Donn Beach reportedly created each cocktail to fit a specific mood or time of day. According to a book by his widow, Phoebe Beach, the Zombie was designed for afternoon sipping. Good luck with your evening after a few of these in the afternoon!

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* As noted above, Don’s Mix is the secret coded ingredient that Berry revealed as 2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup. Both Don’s Mix (now branded as “Paradise Blend”) and cinnamon syrup are available from B.G. Reynolds, or you can make your own. Recipes abound in Berry’s books and online.

* Recommended gold Puerto Rican rums include Bacardi 8, Bacardi Añejo, Don Q Añejo, and Ron Barrilito. Appleton produces several fine aged Jamaican rums, which are featured extensively at The Mai-Kai.

* Lemon Hart 151, a rich and smoky Demerara rum from Guyana, has been notoriously hard to find over the years. It made a triumphant return to The Mai-Kai in 2012, but distribution problems led to its disappearance from the U.S. market in late 2014. It returned in 2016 and was re-instituted by The Mai-Kai in September. During the two-year gap, Hamilton rums from Guyana hit the market in both 86- and 151-proof expressions, the latter a fine substitute for Lemon Hart 151.
* See the full story on Hamilton and Lemon Hart at The Mai-Kai

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Zombie (1950)
(From Beachbum Berry’s Intoxica and Sippin’ Safari)

Zombie (1950) by The Atomic Grog (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2011)

Zombie (1950) by The Atomic Grog (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2011)

* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
* 1 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
* 1 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1 ounce white Puerto Rican rum
* 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican rum (see above)
* 1 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* 1 teaspoon brown sugar
* 1 dash Angostura bitters

Dissolve sugar in lemon and/or lime juice. Shake everything well with crushed ice and pour into a tall glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Attributed to Don the Beachcomber by Louis Spievak in his 1950 book, Barbecue Chef. This is considered a streamlined version for the benefit of lay bartenders. Though still far from simple with nine ingredients, they’re all in easy-to-remember measurements. “This was more than a great drink, this was social engineering of the highest order,” Beachbum Berry wrote in Sippin’ Safari.

Berry suspects that Donn Beach crafted this drink specifically for the readers of Spievak’s book, “killing two exotic birds with one stone,” he wrote in Remixed. “This version would also have thrown Donn’s professional competitors off the scent.” Six years later, the 1956 Zombie surfaced in a magazine that also purported to have a true recipe, direct from Donn Beach himself. It’s another fine Zombie recipe, but we’re leaving it out of this discussion since we’re fairly sure it came after Mariano Licudine’s tenure and would not have influenced The Mai-Kai’s Zombie. For further reading, The Tempered Spirits blog has an informative comparison of all three vintage Zombie recipes from Don the Beachcomber.

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* Beachbum Berry suggests (and we agree) that Virgin Islands rum (such as Cruzan) or Nicaragua’s Flor De Caña are much more flavorful and smoother mixing rums than the Puerto Rican variety. This applies to both white and gold.

* There are many passion fruit syrup options on the market but their quality varies. A mass-produced syrup, such as Finest Call, is fine in most instances and is extremely economical. But for high-end cocktails such as the Zombie, consider a hand-crafted version. Three we recommend are B.G. Reynolds, Small Hand Foods, and Aunty Lilikoi.

* While the updated recipe in Beachbum Berry Remixed replaces the brown sugar with demerara sugar syrup, we prefer the sweetness of dark brown sugar in this cocktail.

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NEW: Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie
By The Atomic Grog (version 3.0, updated December 2016)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie by The Atomic Grog, December 2016. Served in The Hukilau 2016 Zombie Glass designed by Shag. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie by The Atomic Grog, December 2016. Served in The Hukilau 2016 Zombie Glass designed by Shag. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce Mariano’s Mix #7 (see below)
* 1/2 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
(2:1 honey to water, mixed and chilled)
* 1 ounce white Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum (see below)
* 3/4 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters
* Mint for garnish

Pulse blend with 1 cup crushed ice for 5-7 seconds. Add a healthy amount of mint (2-3 sprigs or more) into a Zombie glass, then pour in the drink without straining. Top with more crushed ice and mint.

This newly reconfigured Zombie seems to be sweeter and more potent, with a more complex anise flavor as the result of the newly discovered mix #7. We’ve tweaked quite a few other ingredients to match the rich and spicy version now served at The Mai-Kai.

December 2016 update: In late summer 2016, the Zombie was one of six cocktails confirmed to now include a secret mix that had been sidelined for years due to the unavailability of key ingredients. While we don’t claim to have cracked the code to this elusive syrup, we have a close approximation:

Our attempt to recreate the flavor of The Mai-Kai's mysterious #7 mix features falernum and Herbsaint. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Our attempt to recreate the flavor of The Mai-Kai’s mysterious #7 mix features falernum and Herbsaint. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Mariano’s Mix #7: Combine 1/4 teaspoon of Herbsaint (or Pernod) with 1 tablespoon of falernum to create a sweet and fragrant syrup that adds another level of flavor to this often ignored long pull. To make a larger batch, just scale up to 1/2 teaspoon of anise liqueur for every ounce of falernum. Bottle and keep at room temperature to let the flavors mingle. I recommend Herbsaint over Pernod since it provides the appropriate floral quality that mimics The Mai-Kai’s mix. A sweet, non-alcoholic falernum, such as Fee Brothers, is also highly recommended to achieve the correct flavor. I’ve confirmed recently that The Mai-Kai uses the Fee Brothers brand.
* Tiki Central: More on the return of secret mixes to The Mai-Kai

In addition to #7, there were other changes made to the previous tribute recipe to match the amped-up flavors I’m now tasting in the official version at The Mai-Kai: Lime juice was increased and lemon juice was eliminated. Passion fruit syrup was reduced and Pernod was dropped since #7 now provides both sweet and anise flavors. Gold rum was replaced with white rum, and the 151 rum was increased from 1/2 to 3/4 ounce. The extra flavor turns this already outstanding cocktail up another notch.

For addtional info on the juices and rums, see the mixing notes below.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie, v.2.5
By The Atomic Grog (October 2016)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie by The Atomic Grog, October 2016. Served in a Beachbum Berry Zombie Glass from Cocktail Kingdom. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie by The Atomic Grog, October 2016. Served in a Beachbum Berry Zombie Glass from Cocktail Kingdom. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
* 3/4 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
(2:1 honey to water, mixed and chilled)
* 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum (see below)
* 1/2 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters
* 4 drops Pernod
* Mint for garnish

Pulse blend with 1 cup crushed ice for 5 seconds. Add a healthy amount of mint (2-3 sprigs or more) into a Zombie glass, then pour in the drink without straining. Top with more crushed ice and mint.

October 2016 update: We’ve known for a while that cinnamon syrup is not featured in cocktails at The Mai-Kai, despite hints of a similar distinctive spice in many drinks. This tweak to the Zombie was fairly simple. Don’s Mix (grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup) was dropped, replaced by straight grapefruit juice. While slightly less spicy, the drink keeps its balance due to the extra grapefruit. Note that The Mai-Kai uses fresh citrus from Florida groves, so the grapefruit juice changes seasonally. The white and red varieties are both pulpy and sour, but the red has a bit more sweetness. The lime juice, also sourced from fresh Florida citrus, is very rich and distinctive. We’ve been able to duplicate the flavor by combining bottled key lime juice with fresh-squeezed Persian limes.
* Tiki Central: Click here for a full guide to the juices used at The Mai-Kai

Notes and tips for home mixologists

* As stated above, this is an attempt at re-creating the flavor profile of The Mai-Kai’s Zombie by combining key ingredients from Don the Beachcomber’s 1934 and 1950 versions. The one addition is the rich honey mix, which is a common ingredient in Mai-Kai cocktails, adding a subtle yet distinct layer of sweetness.

Comparing The Atomic Grog's Zombie tribute recipes using Lemon Hart 151 and Hamilton 151 rums from Guyana

Comparing The Atomic Grog’s Zombie tribute recipes using Lemon Hart 151 and Hamilton 151 rums from Guyana. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2015)

* When Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum once again became unavailable at The Mai-Kai in fall of 2014, Gosling’s Black Seal 151 from Bermuda was used in its place. Just months later, however, Hamilton 151 from Guyana, which is essentially a Demerara rum, was quickly adopted in the Zombie and other signature Mai-Kai cocktails. Compared head-to-head (see photo at right), the Lemon Hart version seemed to be smoother and more mellow, while the Zombie with Hamilton 151 packed a little more kick and was rougher around the edges. The differences are subtle. If you enjoy just a little extra heat, you’ll find Hamilton right up your alley. If you don’t have access to either, Gosling’s will do in a pinch. Note that before Lemon Hart returned in 2012, The Mai-Kai used Bacardi 151, which we don’t recommend. However, it did a decent job in the first tribute recipe below. [Full story on Hamilton and Lemon Hart]

* The dark Jamaican rum used until recently in the Zombie is the elusive Kohala Bay, originally known as Dagger. This distinctive, high-proof blend was also featured an many other highly-rated Mai-Kai cocktails. [More on Kohala Bay]. Unfortunately, it became unavailable in mid-2016 and its prospects for a return are unclear. You can sub Coruba or another quality dark Jamaican rum. To come closer to the distinctive Kohala Bay flavor, try equal parts Smith & Cross Jamaican rum and El Dorado 12-year-old Demerara rum if they’re available in your area. The Mai-Kai currently uses Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, a smooth yet funky and flavorful rum from Jamaica’s Wray & Newphew distillery. Though some other cocktails may miss Kohala Bay, the Zombie is no worse for wear.
* More Mai-Kai cocktails featuring Appleton rums

* Tip: Use an eye-dropper to dispense the Pernod in the exact amount. Too much will overwhelm the drink.

We find The Mai-Kai’s Zombie to be less rum-forward and much smoother than the traditional versions. But don’t let it fool you. It’s still very potent and worthy of the cocktail’s ominous legacy. And true to its back-story, there still may be a few more secrets waiting to be uncovered.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie by The Atomic Grog, November 2014

Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie by The Atomic Grog, November 2014. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, January 2015)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Zombie, v.2.0
By The Atomic Grog (December 2014)

* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
* 3/4 ounce passion fruit syrup
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
(2:1 honey to water, mixed and chilled)
* 1/4 ounce Don’s Mix (see above)
* 1 ounce gold Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum (see below)
* 1/2 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters
* 4 drops Pernod
* Mint for garnish

Pulse blend with 1 cup crushed ice for 5-7 seconds. Add 2-3 sprigs of mint to a Zombie glass, then pour in the drink without straining. Top with more crushed ice and mint.

This recipe originally featured brown sugar but neglected to include passion fruit syrup, an obvious ingredient that we somehow missed. It’s a key element in the 1950 Zombie, so it makes sense in this mash-up. And it’s clearly detectable in the Zombie served at The Mai-Kai. I make a homemade rich passion fruit syrup using organic sugar and frozen passion fruit pulp, and it seems to come close to the flavor profile of the house-made syrup used at The Mai-Kai. The lemon juice and Don’s Mix were reduced, and I replaced the white rum with a gold rum. Also, the Pernod was increased from 1 drop to 4.

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Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie by The Atomic Grog, October 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai Zombie by The Atomic Grog, October 2011. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Tribute to The Mai-Kai’s Zombie, v.1
By The Atomic Grog (November 2011)

* 1 ounce fresh lime juice
* 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
* 1 teaspoon brown sugar
* 1/2 ounce rich honey mix
(2 parts honey to 1 part water, mixed and chilled)
* 3/4 ounce Don’s Mix (see above)
* 1 ounce white Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands rum
* 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum (see below)
* 1/2 ounce 151-proof rum
* 1 dash Angostura bitters
* 1 drop Pernod

Dissolve sugar in lemon and/or lime juice. Pulse blend everything with 1 cup crushed ice. Strain into a Zombie glass half full of crushed ice and add several sprigs of mint. Top with more ice and garnish with another mint sprig.

Special mahalo to mixologist Lucky the Painproof Man for serving this version of the Zombie tribute recipe in May 2014 at the Tiki Lounge in Pittsburgh. [See photo and menu]

Okole maluna!

More Zombies on The Atomic Grog
* Altered State Zombie revealed at tattoo shop’s 20th anniversary party
* The undead get lively at The Mai-Kai’s seventh annual Hulaween party
* Zombies regaining critical mass: New book features 86 deadly recipes
* Zombie alert: 5 crucial things you need to know about the deadly cocktail
* We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai
* Wake the dead, it’s time for the Atomic Zombie Cocktail

About Hurricane Hayward

A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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8 Responses to Mai-Kai cocktail review: A near-perfect Zombie, the classic deadly cocktail

  1. Mark says:

    I’m curious what your thoughts are on floating the 151, as is often done in conventional recipes, including the recipe in Berry’s Grog Log. I recently tried your recipe for the Tribute to the Mai Kai Zombie, and was a little dissapointed that the 151, an excellent rum, was not more apparent in flavour. I did note that it was going to be a little less “rum-forward”, but I’m left curious about this.

    • Mark, that’s a good point. If you prefer a more rum-forward Zombie (and who doesn’t), go ahead and float the 151 and/or increase the amount. My goal above was to replicate The Mai-Kai’s recipe, which usually is not as rummy as people expect (though no less potent!). This is not unusual, as The Mai-Kai attempts to make its drinks appeal to a wide spectrum of guests. I like to walk though the bar or dining room and spot a family of straight-laced tourists from the Midwest all sipping away on Zombies and Shrunken Skulls. :>)

  2. Not too sure says:

    1.5oz of tart plus tarty passion fruit syrup, only to be countered by .5 of rich honey mix, no cinnamon syrup, etc. It just doesn’t work in my opinion. There’s really no reason for over 2 ounces of tart in a Zombie.

    • Jeff, yes this Zombie is very much on the tart/sweet side. The combination just seems to work with the bitters and Pernod providing a counterpoint. Feel free to adjust the proportions to taste. We’ve heard reports of this drink sometimes being out of balance when served at the bar, so it’s definitely a tightrope walk. I’m a fan of the 1950 version, so I do like this one too.

      Also, we already have a new version in the works that includes a confirmed ingredient that may be a big surprise to some.

  3. Arriano says:

    I was at Don the Beachcomber in Huntington Beach a couple of weeks ago and had a Zombie. It was very cinnamon forward. I’m guessing it is not the way the original Zombie was.

    • That depends on what you consider the “original” … there are so many versions by Donn. According to Beachbum Berry’s research, the 1934 version contained cinnamon. But it was replaced by falernum in the 1956 version. And, of course, the 1950 version had different ingredients entirely.

      I’ve had to tweak all the recipes with cinnamon syrup in The Mai-Kai guide since I found out they don’t use it. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t featured decades ago. For the most part, however, The Mai-Kai recipes have remain relatively unchanged, at least compared to Donn’s recipes.

      • arriano says:

        Call me a skeptic, but I’ve never believed that either the ’50 or ’56 recipes were ones used in the restaurants. Don went to great lengths to keep the recipes secret, creating coded bottles, etc., and then just freely gave out the recipe to his signature cocktail to a magazine and a friend’s cookbook? More likely he whipped up some cocktails with a lot of rum that were mildly similar, and provided those instead.

        • Yeah, you may be right about that, but on the other hand Donn was always tinkering so they may have appeared briefly on menus or possibly tested out on his guests.

          As it relates to The Mai-Kai, I’m more interested in how Mariano seems to have cherry picked different elements from the different versions. I’d like to know how much he knew about Donn’s subterfuge. From what I hear, Mariano himself had different versions of his drinks and mixes in his notebooks.

          Okole maluna!

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