Two of the spirits and Tiki cocktail world’s most respected figures are putting their names on the label of an exciting new release: Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend from Hamilton Rum. It’s the first joint rum project for both and is expected to hit stores and bars across America this summer.
This deadly elixir is a potent 118-proof blend of spirits from multiple Caribbean islands that seeks to recreate in one bottle the classic combination of three different rums that Don the Beachcomber famously used in his original Zombie recipe in the 1930s. Berry spent more than a decade decoding Donn Beach’s secrets and published the results in his landmark 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari.
The blend was a hands-on passion project for Berry, who tasted and approved every tweak, Hamilton said. “I love the guy, he’s wonderful to work with,” Hamilton said, adding that he felt more than a little pressure to not disappoint him. It was a two-year project that “started well before COVID.”
Exclusive recipe below: HAMILTON ZOMBIE
RELATED: 15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum
Hamilton hopes to have ample supplies of the new rum in 1-liter bottles ready for distribution from his New Jersey warehouse by around the time most of us are celebrating the Fourth of July, he said last Friday night in his weekly Zoom happy hour. The blend is done, Hamilton said, and he’s just working with Berry on finalizing the back label. It will feature a revamped Zombie recipe by “the Bum” that shows off the new rum.
The author of six influential and award-winning books on tropical cocktail history also has his own line of custom barware from Cocktail Kingdom (including Zombie glasses) and owns the acclaimed restaurant and bar Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans. His talks at rum and cocktail events around the world are always a hot ticket, and he’s credited with sparking the revival of Tiki cocktails that continues to grow.
RELATED: Beachbum Berry cocktail recipes, previous coverage
Hamilton said he’s happy that his rums are now available in 40 states, and he’s looking forward to a post-COVID boom that should boost his rum sales above 2019 levels. The partnership with Berry certainly won’t hurt.
“The best people to collaborate with are people who know more than you do,” Berry told us via e-mail. “Ed definitely fills that bill. He knows everything about rum, and he has good taste too. That made the whole sourcing and blending process ridiculously easy.”
The union of these two unique brands is a Tiki lover’s dream. Hamilton, founder of the Ministry of Rum website, was a longtime rum expert and author before he became an importer. His company, Caribbean Spirts, brings into the United States rums and other products from across the West Indies with an emphasis on honesty and authenticity.
Hamilton’s namesake rums include blends from some of the region’s most respected rum-producing islands. His best sellers include Hamilton 86 and 151 from Guyana, plus gold and black pot-still rums from Jamaica. These styles are Tiki bar staples, and Hamilton’s reasonably-priced and flavorful blends are well-received by bartenders and home enthusiasts alike.
Even if you have all the ingredients, the Zombie is a beast of a drink to make. Not only are there three rums but also multiple juices, syrups and spices that add up to 10 ingredients or more. This can discourage not only novices mixing at home but also high-volume cocktail bars. “We wanted something that works in the bars,” Hamilton said. The goal, he said, is for bartenders to say: “Now I can put a Zombie on the menu.”
For Berry, the Zombie is special “not only because it tastes great, but on a more personal level because it was a ‘lost’ recipe that I discovered, and then decoded, and then published for the first time anywhere in Sippin’ Safari in 2007. And now, 15 years later, I’ve blended a rum for the drink as well. That’s a pretty cool feeling!”
However, a blend of this sort is not an easy task. Don the Beachcomber’s 1934 Zombie calls for gold Puerto Rican rum, dark Jamaican rum, and 151-proof Demerara rum from Guyana. It’s a classic combination that appears in many of the best Tiki cocktails. Hamilton produces the latter two styles, and they’re among the best examples of each you can find on the market today. But Puerto Rican, or Spanish-style rums, are not in his portfolio.
Hamilton has produced blends from multiple islands before. His Navy Strength rum is a 60/40 blend of rums from Guyana and Jamaica, clocking in at a powerful 114 proof. In December, Hamilton released a new limited-edition 90-proof blend for the Florida Rum Society that features 65 percent from Guyana and 35 percent from Jamaica. Both are highly recommended.
Previous coverage: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida
But the Zombie blend is by far Hamilton’s most ambitious. The seeds were planted several years ago, when Berry and other influential bartenders convinced Hamilton to produce a “white” rum that could fill a void in the market for a high-quality Spanish-style mixer that would work well in Daiquiris and also many classic Tiki drinks. The result is Hamilton White Stache, an 87-proof blend that not only pays tribute to the label owner’s trademark facial hair but also perfectly nails the light but robust style needed from a “clear rum”
White Stache is a blend of aged rums from Trinidad, Guyana and the Dominican Republic. The “Puerto Rican” component in Hamilton’s new Zombie blend features distillate from these islands, including a 3-year-old Trinidad rum, he said. Rounding out the classic combination are the signature overproof rum from Demerara Distillers in Guyana and “a couple of aged Jamaicans” from Worthy Park Estate.
While you might think that the Zombie Blend is just a combination of three rums Hamilton already produces, there’s a lot more to it than that. As he did with both the Navy Strength and Florida Rum Society blends, Hamilton worked with the distilleries and his blender in upstate New York to produce a distinctive product with unique components. It will be available only in 1-liter bottles, like White Stache, and will be priced just a little bit more than the Navy blend, Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he hasn’t posted a product sheet on his website yet since he’s still working on the back label. But expect him to be as transparent on the details of the blend as he has been with information on all of his other rums. Don’t be surprised, however, if Hamilton keeps the exact proportions of each component a trade secret. All he would say during the Zoom call was the three distinct elements “are not even or equal parts.”
The components for all the Hamilton rum blends are imported from their respective countries as high-proof distillate, then diluted with filtered well water at the Five & 20 Distillery in Westfield, N.Y. The final products are the handiwork Hamilton’s trusted blender, head distiller Joe Nelson.
Like most dangerous creations, the origin story of the Zombie blend is a bit fuzzy. The idea was hatched more than two years ago – shortly after White Stache was released. All Hamilton can remember is it “evolved over a few nights of drinking at Latitude 29,” Berry’s bar in the French Quarter. Rum historian and author Wayne Curtis dropped by during part of the brainstorming, and Hamilton remembers Berry lamenting how life would be easier for his bartenders if they didn’t have to touch so many bottles to make a Zombie.
“We had a few Zombies and drank more than our fair share of rum,” Hamilton said. One thing led to another, and they dreamed up the label featuring Berry’s zombiefied head. Hamilton said that led to a “handshake agreement” that sealed the deal since they both share the same vision for the product.
They agreed that they wanted a big and bold rum that could stand up to the ingredients in the Zombie and other Tiki cocktails. They tried eight different samples before arriving on the final blend, Hamilton said, noting that sample bottles are still scattered around his office. Like mad scientists bringing a cadaver to life, they ruminated over a host of different blends from Hamilton’s sources in the Caribbean.
A photo Hamilton posted on Instagram in early January shows six bottles ranging from 97 proof to 131 proof. How did they arrive at 118 proof? Much of it was simply determined by taste, Hamilton said, but Berry also wanted to tailor the blend to a specific potency that would be feasible for bars to serve.
Don the Beachcomber changed his Zombie recipe many times over the years, but the one common denominator is the heavy amount of rum. Some feature 3 or more ounces, but Berry wanted to make sure this new rum would taste great in a modern Zombie recipe using just 2 ounces. That’s much more economically friendly for a bar’s bottom line, and also much more responsible. It also makes the Zombie more than just a “one and done” cocktail.
“The recipe that will be on the back label hews very closely to the ‘lost’ original 1934 version,” Berry told us in his email. “I just had to make some minor adjustments because of the high ABV of the rum blend, which is designed so that you only need 2 ounces of rum from one Hamilton-Beachbum bottle, as opposed to needing four ounces from the three different rum bottles that the original recipe calls for.”
Contrary its stated purpose, the rum has many potential uses beyond the Zombie. Berry said he’s already completed recipes that feature the blend in the Jet Pilot, the Cobra’s Fang, and the Tortuga. Look for them at BeachbumBerry.com when the rum hits the market.
“As for other needs it can fulfill, the sky’s the limit,” Berry said. “It all depends on what the user decides to do with it. Playing around with the blend in cocktails both old and new is what it’s all about.”
Hamilton also broke some other news in his Zoom talk, noting that the collaboration with Berry on the Zombie Blend is not a one-off. Expect a second rum blend based on a classic Tiki cocktail: the Navy Grog. In fact, Beachbum Berry’s Navy Grog Blend is already listed on the Caribbean Spirits website at 114 proof, but there are scant details besides the planned 1-liter bottling.
Hamilton said he’s shooting to have this blend done in time for Labor Day in early September. It will be similar to the Zombie stylistically since it’s based on another Don the Beachcomber proto-Tiki drink featuring multiple rums. The original 1940s recipe, one of the many lost classics unearthed by Berry and published in his books and app, features three similar rums (gold Demerara, dark Jamaican, white Puerto Rican).
Like the Zombie, Berry celebrated the drink with barware (the distinctive Navy Grog Ice Cone Kit). The idea of a Navy Grog blend was also dreamed up during those Latitude 29 drinking sessions, Hamilton said, but they decided to put it on the back burner and concentrate of the Zombie first.
We’ll gladly wait for part two of this deadly one-two punch of unique rums. We might need a few months in between to safely explore the deadly Zombie Blend from Beachbum Berry and Ed Hamilton, a rum the perfectly fits the time we live in.
SEE ED HAMILTON LIVE!
Fridays: Follow Ed’s Instagram page for info on weekly Zoom happy hours
Video: Recap Ed’s May 21 appearance on Spike’s Breezeway Cocktail Hour on YouTube
While we await Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend from Hamilton Rum, we came up with a new recipe that celebrates both the classic revived by Berry and the tastes of the brand owner. It also offers the opportunity to put ourselves in their shoes and explore some tasty blends using Hamilton rums …
(By Hurricane Hayward, The Atomic Grog)
* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 ounce white grapefruit juice
* 1/2 ounce cane syrup
* 1 teaspoon Hamilton Pimento Dram
* 1/4 ounce falernum
* 2 dashes “Herbstura”
* 2 1/2 ounces Hamilton Zombie Blend ***
* Several mint sprigs
*** = See rum suggestions below
In a shaker, muddle 6-8 mint leaves with the lime juice and syrup. Add other ingredients and shake vigorously with up to 2 cups of crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a Zombie glass, adding more crushed ice to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.
We’re sure this rich and rummy cocktail will be even better featuring Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend, but it’s still outstanding using a blend of existing Hamilton rums (see below). It has all the hallmarks of a classic Zombie, heavy on the Jamaican and Demerara rums, of course. It has just enough sweetness and spice to make it go down easy and tantalize the taste buds but remain as dangerous as the legendary original.
The back story
In an effort to put a “Hamilton” spin on the classic Zombie, we looked to several of the importer’s signature products. Instead of cinnamon syrup, it made perfect sense to use Hamilton Pimento Dram, a 60 proof liqueur made from Jamaican pimento (also known as allspice), Worthy Park sugar and pot-still rums. Ed Hamilton is an unabashed fan of the Ti Punch, and one of his most popular imports is a key ingredient: Petite Canne Sugar Cane Syrup from Martinique. It combines with the traditional falernum to give the drink an exotic sweetness. These slight tweaks keep the Hamilton Zombie very much in line with the traditional template but add a unqiue flair.
The cocktail specs
* After years of obscurity, Zombie glasses – which are tall and sleek like a Collins glass but significantly thinner – are abundant these days. There are many new versions by Tiki artists and barware purveyors to choose from. We encourage you to support your favorite glassware suppliers and stock up on unique Zombie glasses while you can.
* The use of mint is a tribute to our favorite cocktail at The Mai-Kai, which comes loaded with the fragrant herb. The muddling imparts a slight mint taste in the drink to complement the aromatics from the garnish.
* We prefer our Zombies on the boozy side, but we felt that 2 1/2 ounces of rum hit a sweet spot that still makes the drink accessible. Feel free to cut back to 2 ounces for a lighter Zombie or boost to 3 ounces for a stiffer pour, depending on the rum blend you use (see below).
* All-natural juices are always recommended, fresh-squeezed if possible. If white grapefruit (or a no-sugar-added bottled version) is unavailable, fresh red grapefruit is acceptable.
* If you can’t get your hands on Petite Canne, another brand of sugar cane syrup from Martinique would be acceptable. If necessary, a rich Demerara syrup would also work.
* Hamilton Pimento Dram gives this drink a personal link to its namesake. But if you don’t have this brand in your neck of the woods, go ahead and use another version of the signature Caribbean liqueur. Homemade recipes are also welcome.
* There are many options for falernum – a lime, clove, ginger and almond elixir invented in Barbados in the early 1800s. These range from the traditional Velvet brand (an 11% ABV liqueur) to non-alcoholic syrups and DIY recipes. In the Zombie, we prefer the rich syrups from Fee Brothers and Orgeat Works. Both are reverential to the falernum used by Don the Beachcomber in his heyday. The latter has added relevance since it was made in consultation with Beachbum Berry and is branded as Latitude 29 Formula Falernum.
* “Herbstura” is a easy way to combine two common Tiki cocktail staples into one bottle. Indeed, most Zombie recipes call for both Angostua bitters and an anise liqueur – typically Pernod (or absinthe). In his book Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki (2016), author and master mixologist Martin Cate recommends filling a dropper or dasher bottle with equal parts Angostura and Herbsaint, an anise-flavored liqueur that has been made in New Orleans since 1934. The bitters is crucial and essential, but if you don’t have Herbsaint on hand, just replace with Pernod or absinthe. One dash of each would work just as well as the combined mix.
The rum blend
Of course, there’s no way to truly duplicate the craft and care that went into the upcoming Zombie Blend from Beachbum Berry and Ed Hamilton, but it’s sure fun playing around with the rums. This cocktail actually started with blend No. 1, before we even caught wind of the superblend on the horizon. It was an effort to create a Zombie featuring Hamilton’s Florida Rum Society Blend, itself a combination of Jamaican and Demerara rums. [See full preview here]
After hearing more tantalizing details on the various blends being tested [see photo above], we couldn’t resist throwing together some more blends featuring the Hamilton rums from Jamaica and Guyana. A recent acquisition of White Stache was the final piece in the puzzle, allowing us to at least come close to the new Zombie Blend. Here are the bottles we used in various combinations:
* Hamilton 151 (Guyana, 151 proof)
* Hamilton 86 (Guyana, 86 proof)
* Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black and/or Gold (Jamaica, 93 proof)
* Hamilton Navy Strength (40% Jamaican, 60% Guyanese, 114 proof)
* Hamilton White Stache (Trinidad, Guyana, Dominican Republic, 87 proof)
* Hamilton Florida Rum Society (35% Jamaican, 65% Guyanese, 90 proof)
Below are the five blends we’ve tried so far. They’re all great and help this cocktail achieve 4 out of 5 stars in our personal ratings. There are slight variations in ABV, but the flavors are all in the same ballpark and (we hope) close to the final product we’ll be tasting in July. (We understand that simply adding up the numbers proportionally is not an accurate way to measure the proof of the final blend, but it does give a relative sense of which blends are stronger than others.) As noted above, we went with 2 1/2 ounces for the optimal flavor punch in this Hamilton Zombie. Feel free to adjust slightly to taste.
No. 1 = 1.5 ounces Florida Rum Society, 0.5 ounce Jamaican, 0.5 ounce Hamilton 151 (around 103 proof)
No. 2 = 1.25 ounces Navy Strength, 0.75 ounces Hamilton 86, 0.5 ounce Hamilton 151 (around 103 proof)
No. 3 = 1 ounce Navy Strength, 0.5 ounce Jamaican, 0.5 ounce White Stache, 0.5 ounce Hamilton 151 (around 112 proof)
No. 4 = 1.5 ounces Navy Strength, 0.5 ounce Jamaican, 0.5 ounce Hamilton 151 (around 117 proof)
No. 5 = 0.75 ounces Navy Strength, 0.75 ounce White Stache, 0.5 ounce Jamaican, 0.5 ounce Hamilton 151 (around 109 proof)
All the blends feature just a half-ounce of the 151 Demerara rum for consistency and to keep the cocktail in balance. Every Hamilton rum packs a punch, so no need too lean too heavily on the 151. These combinations are equally good, featuring the complex bold and spicy flavors that make for a great Zombie. We hope this list offers up at least one blend you can make based on the Hamilton rums in your collection.
PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY!
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A DEEPER DIVE
* Zombie alert: 5 crucial things you need to know about the deadly cocktail
* Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide: The theory of evolution of the Zombie
* Rums of The Mai-Kai: The history of the potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica
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Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida
The importer Ed Hamilton announces the arrival of a new blend bottled for the Florida Rum Society.
* 15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum
Recipe: Hamilton Navy Grog, as served at The Mai-Kai
MORE ON BEACHBUM BERRY
* Official sites: BeachbumBerry.com | Latitude 29
The Atomic Grog coverage
* Jeff Berry proves he’s never too busy to be a ‘Beachbum’
* ‘Potions of the Caribbean’ cruises back to the birthplace of Tiki cocktails
* Beachbum Berry digs deep to unearth vintage Zombies, more ‘Potions of the Caribbean’
Beachbum Berry archive: Past stories and interviews, plus more than 50 vintage and original recipes (from the 151 Swizzle to the Zombie).
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Atomic Grog Cocktail Recipes, A through Z
A comprehensive list of every recipe we’ve posted on the site.
>>> COMPLETE LIST OF DRINKS