Feeling like a zombie? Here are three new holiday cocktails to raise your spirits

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: There’s no better time for imbibing festive and flamboyant cocktails than the Christmas season.

Jump directly to recipes below
Christmas Creeper | Uncle Ed’s Elixir | Rudolph’s Red Rum Swizzle
RELATED: The Barrel Before Christmas tribute recipe

The Atomic Grog home bar is ready for the 2021 holiday season. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
The Atomic Grog home bar is ready for the 2021 holiday season. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

If you’re in a cold climate, you can curl up in front of the fire with a warm and comforting mug of holiday cheer. If you’re fortunate enough (like us) to hail from closer to the Equator, there are plenty of cool and refreshing concoctions to scratch your tropical itch. Hell, why not enjoy all of the options no matter where you live?

As this season’s wildly popular pop-up bars – most notably Miracle and Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Santa – continue to prove, there’s no shortage of demand for creative and well-themed Christmas cocktails. Beyond the big dogs, there are also one-off themed overlays in bars across the globe that are also worth checking out.

We make no claim to the expertise of those fantastic folks in the trenches, but it’s always fun to experiment with holiday flavors like a spoiled kid in a toy store. Joining The Atomic Grog’s pantheon of winter cocktails are three new creations, including our first seasonal Zombie ….

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This time of year is not all snowmen and mistletoe. There are some elements of the season that make us feel like the walking dead. What better way to deal with the holiday hubris than a nice, stiff Zombie …

CHRISTMAS CREEPER
(By Hurricane Hayward, The Atomic Grog)

Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1 ounce cranberry juice
* 1/2 ounce brown sugar syrup
* 1/4 ounce pomegranate grenadine
* 1 teaspoon ginger syrup
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon syrup
* 1/2 ounce Kirschwasser (cherry brandy)
* 1 ounce gold Jamaican rum
* 1 ounce Demerara rum
* 3/4 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* 4-6 drops absinthe
* 1 dash allspice bitters

Pulse blend with 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice for 6-9 seconds. Pour into a Zombie glass, adding more ice to fill. Garnish with mint and swizzle stick.

Tasting notes

This looks like a Zombie and tastes like a Zombie, but it’s also full of sweet and tart holiday cheer. The potent rums and lime-cranberry combo hit you hard, but the spice and anise notes creep up on you. As will the alcohol content, so consume with caution or risk becoming a holiday party story your relatives will retell with relish.

Ingredient, mixing tips

* The cranberry and pomegranate, combined with the fresh lime, provide an enveloping underlying tartness that serves as a great base for the bold rums, anise and unique punch of the kirsch. We recommend a high-quality (or homemade) grenadine and natural cranberry juice. We didn’t try this, but it might also be worth swapping the grenadine for a cranberry simple syrup.

Endorsed by creepy Santas everywhere: Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
Endorsed by creepy Santas everywhere: Christmas Creeper by The Atomic Grog. Zombie glassware and swizzle by Brian Rechenmacher, aka B-Rex. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

* Brown sugar syrup is easy to make by heating 1 part dark brown sugar with 1 part water on the stove until it starts to boil, then cooling in the fridge. We also make our own ginger and cinnamon syrups, and there are quite a few recipes available online. But if you’re not adventurous, we also recommend the bottled options, from B.G. Reynolds and Real Syrups.

* Kirschwasser, aka kirsch, is a colorless brandy that originated in Germany and is made from fermented cherries. It’s usually bottled at 80 to 90 proof and has a distinctive bitter cherry flavor that works well in a Zombie. It’s traditionally drunken neat as a digestif, but you can also find it in cocktails. It can also be used in festive holiday cakes, candies and the flaming cherries jubilee dessert. It’s relatively easy to find in liquor stores and worth seeking out for this distinctive cocktail. It works well with the rums and the traditional cocktail spices, absinthe and allspice. For the latter, we chose the subtle touch of a bitters (such as Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters) but a very small dash of pimento dram would work as well.

* The rums are a classic pairing found in many Zombie variations. We recommend a less funky Jamaican rum so as not to obscure the other flavors in this complex drink. Rum Bar is our choice for its price and versatility, but there are plenty of other options (Appleton, Monymusk, etc.). We used Pusser’s “blue label” British Navy Rum for the regular Demerara component, but you can also opt for Hamilton, Lemon Hart, El Dorado or another standard proof rum from Guyana. The 151 rum in a Zombie should always be a Demerara rum. Hamilton and Lemon Hart are the best options in the U.S., though overseas readers many have a few more choices. Plantation’s 138-proof O.F.T.D. always works in a pinch.

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2021: THE YEAR OF THE ZOMBIE

The Zombie recipe above is the seventh celebrating The Atomic Grog’s 10th anniversary. Look for more in the coming months. Previous recipes:

* Le Zombi
* Vodou Zonbi (Haitian Zombie)
* The Final (Destination) Zombie
* Tiki Trail Zombie
* Revenge of the Atomic Zombie Cocktail
* Hamilton Zombie
>>> More Zombie recipes, news and history

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If you’re lucky, you probably have eccentric relative, often an uncle, who pulls out all the stops at family gatherings with his (or her) prowess behind the bar. But rather than an unwanted chocolate martini or champagne punch, it’s fun to imagine what would happen if your uncle is actually Ed Hamilton, purveyor of fine rums

UNCLE ED’S ELIXIR
(By Hurricane Hayward, The Atomic Grog)

Uncle Ed's Elixir by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
Uncle Ed’s Elixir by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

* 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 ounce grapefruit juice
* 1/2 cream of coconut
* 1/4 ounce coffee syrup
* 1 teaspoon cinnamon syrup
* 1-2 dashes cardamom bitters
* 1/4 ounce Hamilton Pimento Dram
* 2 ounces Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend from Hamilton Rum

Pulse blend with 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice for 10-12 seconds. Dump into a festive mug or rocks glass with more ice to fill. Top with grated nutmeg and/or cinnamon.

Tasting notes

Rich and spicy, full of yuletide flavors of allspice, cinnamon …. and rum, of course.

Ingredient, mixing tips

* Fresh-squeezed lime is essential, but a bottled grapefruit juice (either white or red) would work if necessary.

* Coconut cream (not milk) adds sweetness and an appropriately unctuous mouthfeel. Coco Lopez is the classic brand, but we’re also a fan of Coco Real for its convenience and shelf stability.

Hamilton rums are an essential component in Uncle Ed's Elixir. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
Hamilton rums are an essential component in Uncle Ed’s Elixir. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

* Coffee syrup is easy to make using two parts sugar to one part strong (brewed) coffee. Heat in a sauce pot to a boil, then remove and let cool. We have long followed the cinnamon syrup recipe from Beachbum Berry’s books and app. You can find many similar versions online.

* Cardamom bitters is a seasonal touch, giving Uncle Ed’s Elixir a subtle hint of the sweet-spicy flavor. If you don’t have a bottle on hand, go with a less intense bitters (such as chocolate).

* Hamilton Pimento Dram is highly recommended in keeping with the theme of this cocktail, but another allspice dram would work if you can’t find Uncle Ed’s brand in your vicinity.

* Of course, we opted for Hamilton’s great new collaboration with Beachbum Berry as the driving force in this creamy creation. The 118-proof blend of rums from Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, and the Dominican Republic brings a potent kick with tons of flavor. It’s truly better than the sum of its parts, but if you’re having trouble finding this new bottling in your area and have access to the other Hamilton rums, feel free to use those in its place. We recommend 3/4 ounce of Hamilton White Stache (97 proof) with 3/4 ounce of Hamilton 151 and 1/2 ounce of Hamilton Jamaican Pot Still Black or Gold (93 proof). Use other rums at your own risk, but you can find a happy place with the rums you typically use in your favorite Zombie recipe.

Zombie killers: Beachbum Berry and Ed Hamilton join forces on new rum blend
Zombie hunters: Beachbum Berry, Ed Hamilton join forces on rum blend
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.

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For the second consecutive holiday season, many of us are going through Tiki withdrawals and deeply missing The Mai-Kai, the beloved Polynesian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Never tacky or ostentatious, the historic landmark and its festive Molokai bar were always a comforting getaway and provided the perfect balance of Christmas cheer and South Pacific wonderland.

Thankfully, Santa granted our wishes and enabled The Mai-Kai to find a new ownership team that will ensure a grand reopening in 2022 if all things go according to plan. In the meantime, it’s the perfect time to toast the upcoming return of this one-of-a-kind Tiki temple with a cocktail inspired by a unique offering at the restaurant’s 2020 Hulaween party …

RUDOLPH’S RED RUM SWIZZLE
(By Hurricane Hayward, The Atomic Grog)

Rudolph's Red Rum Swizzle by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)
Rudolph’s Red Rum Swizzle by The Atomic Grog. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, December 2021)

* 3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
* 1/4 ounce orange juice
* 1/2 ounce simple syrup
* 1 dash of grenadine
* 1 dash of allspice dram
* 1/4 ounce 151-proof Demerara rum
* 3 ounces spiced red tea-infused rum

Pulse blend with 1 1/2 cups of crushed ice for 6-8 seconds. Pour into a seasonal or themed glass and add more ice. Garnish with mint and an orchid.

This is a twist on The Mai-Kai’s Blood Island Green Potion #2, served at the Hulaween Drive-In Movie in October 2020. Our tribute recipe includes several of the same ingredients, most notably the tea-infused rum. Our Christmas version is much more cheery, but similarly Tart, dry and rummy.

Tasting notes

A refreshing, easy-to-drink alternative to the usual boozy and creamy holiday fare. The tea and spices provide a slight pop of festive flavors (cinnamon, allspice, etc.), while the 50/50 rum-tea combo is just the right balance to showcase both. The small kick of 151 rum is just enough to make things interesting.

Ingredient, mixing tips

* Don’t skimp on the fresh juices and a rich simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water), which form a solid foundation for the other flavors.

Blood Island Green Potion #2
The Mai-Kai’s Blood Island Green Potion #2, created for Hulaween 2020 and featuring Appleton 8-year-old rum, included a floater of hibiscus-infused red rum.

* A punchy pomegranate grenadine adds just a hint of sweet and tart. An equal amount of pimento dram brings the spice. If you don’t trust your dashing ability, use 1/4 teaspoon of each.

* The Mai-Kai has used both Lemon Hart and Hamilton 151 rums, and either work fine as the subdued yet high-octane rum punch. The key to this cocktail, however, is clearly the tea-infused rum. You could also consider it a rum-infused tea since they’re used in equal proportions. We go into much detail on this concoction in our tribute recipe for the Blood Island Green Potion #2, detailing the process of infusing the tea with Appleton Estate Reserve 8-year-old rum from Jamaica. This is the perfect rum for this application, a sophisticated pot and column still blend that’s also very mixable and boasts hallmark Appleton rum flavors (orange peel and banana, subtle oak, cinnamon and vanilla). The tea, however, gives it a whole new complexity. You can experiment with other flavors, but the preference is a hibiscus tea similar to what The Mai-Kai used. It has the perfect red hue and floral flavors that work well in either holiday setting. After brewing the tea extra strong, steep with several cinnamon sticks for several hours to add additional spice. Let cool, then blend with an equal amount of Appleton 8 and store at room temperature or slightly chilled. We also had positive results with passion fruit tea, but you could also try another deep red tea and infuse with cinnamon.

Punch it up: If you’re hosting a holiday party, you could also create a Rudolph’s Red Rum Punch by scaling up the recipe for a large bowl. The flavor profile fits the punch bowl format perfectly. Dress up the presentation with lots of flowers and cinnamon sticks, plus lime and orange wheels.

Mele kalikimaka and okole maluna!

REMEMBER: PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY

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THE ATOMIC GROG PAST COVERAGE

Sippin' Santa comes to town: Exclusive Beachbum Berry interview, plus festive cocktail recipes
Sippin’ Santa comes to town: Beachbum Berry interview, plus recipes
We caught up with Tiki historian, author and bar owner Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in 2019 to ask him about his growing family of Sippin’ Santa surf shacks, the delicious drinks, and what makes holiday pop-up bars so popular.
Bonus recipes: Tribute to Christmas Eve of Destruction | Nutty Old Fashioned
Previous stories
* All the Miracle pop-up cocktails, reviewed and ranked
* Festive Miracle pop-up bar expands in South Florida, worldwide

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