We’re sorely missing The Mai-Kai’s beloved Hulaween party for the second year in a row, but luckily fans of potent Tiki cocktails will be able to drown their sorrows with a distinctive drink that hasn’t been served since the historic restaurant closed for refurbishments in October 2020.
The Zombie, which traces its roots all the way back to tropical drink pioneer Don the Beachcomber, is available for a limited time as part of The Mai-Kai’s periodic takeout cocktail program. You can order the deadly classic by the quart and gallon, the perfect addition to weekend Halloween gatherings.
Pickup dates are Friday, Oct. 28 (4-6 p.m.) and Saturday, Oct. 29 (10 a.m.-noon). Call public relations director Pia Dahlquist 954-646-8975 to place your order.
Consume with caution, however, since this is one of the strongest cocktails ever created. Donn Beach’s original 1934 recipe included 4 ounces of three different rums, including overproof, and he famously limited guests to two drinks per visit.
The Mai-Kai’s version, created by former Beachcomber bartender Mariano Licudine for the restaurant’s 1956 opening, is more balanced and accessible yet still packs a potent punch (and a healthy dose of 151 rum). It replaced the equally strong Jet Pilot on the “Gallons To Go” menu for Halloween and is priced accordingly (gallon $156, quart $44).
Also on the menu are three other popular standbys: Barrel O’ Rum (gallon $95, quart $30), Black Magic (gallon $95, quart $30), and Mai Tai (gallon $142, quart $40). Click on the links for our comprehensive reviews and recipes for all the cocktails.
All are among the most acclaimed libations in our Mai-Kai cocktail guide, but the top-rated Zombie is a rare treat. It’s complex and a little difficult to execute in large batches, so it hasn’t been offered as part of the popular to-go initiative, which launched early in the pandemic and has continued during the closing.
It also requires some care for guests to pull off the perfect Zombie at home. Luckily, manager Kern Mattei and former Molokai bar server Claudia Marmolejo showed us how to mix up the perfect Halloween treat in a recent Facebook video:
The mint is very important in The Mai-Kai’s version of the Zombie, and not just as a garnish. As Mattei points out, it coats the glass with oils and becomes a subtle underlying flavor and aroma. If you don’t have a 12-ounce Zombie glass, don’t fret. Any tall, skinny glass (or festive Tiki mug) will suffice.
Also be sure to use lots of ice, both in the shaker (or mixer) and glass. By my calculations, the ingredients in The Mai-Kai’s Zombie total around 5 1/2 ounces. I would measure it out to about 5 1/3 ounces in order to get the most from your takeout containers. That measure should yield 6 drinks per quart and 24 per gallon. That’s just $7.33 and $6.50 per cocktail, which is a bargain compared to the old $16 menu price. Who says inflation is everywhere?
We were lucky enough to get an early sample and can attest to its authenticity. Mattei has been going back to Licudine’s original recipes when batching all of the take-out offerings, and it shows. You’re not going to taste very many Zombies that are as close to Don the Beachcomber’s original anywhere.
Mattei promises another surprise or two on the remaining takeout menus of 2022, so be ready. Future dates are:
* Tuesday, Nov. 22 and Wednesday, Nov. 23
* Friday, Dec. 9 and Saturday, Dec. 10
* Friday, Dec. 22 and Saturday, Dec. 23
Held in The Molokai bar from 2008 through 2019, Hulaween was one of The Mai-Kai’s signature events. It featured live music, a creative and crazy costume contest with cash and other prizes, drink specials (including the Zombie), and other unique promotions. It moved outdoors to the parking lot in 2020 after the closing due to a back-of-house roof collapse, resulting in a drive-in movie event that will go down as one of the restaurant’s most memorable ever.
There are many recent copycats, but there will only be one true Hulaween. We’re looking forward to the event returning in full force in 2023 in The Molokai, which is being spiffed up and returned to it’s original glory along with the rest of The Mai-Kai.
GREATEST MOMENTS IN ZOMBIE HISTORY
1934 – Donn Beach invents the “Mender of Broken Dreams.” The Mai Tai is widely recognized as the most famous tropical drink in history, but years earlier the Zombie captured the zeitgeist and established itself at that time as perhaps the world’s most popular cocktail, period. Maybe it’s too scary and exotic for modern tastes to ever archive that fame again, but when it was introduced at the first Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood it was an immediate sensation. According to the dubious legend, Beach created it for a guest suffering from a hangover and dubbed it with the aforementioned caveat. But what probably doomed the Zombie to play second fiddle to Trader Vic’s Mai Tai was Beach’s propensity for keeping his recipes secret. The original Zombie would not be revealed to the public until more than 70 years later.
* More: 1934 Zombie review and recipe
1950 – First “official” Don the Beachcomber Zombie recipe published. While it’s now considered to be merely a footnote in Zombie history, an obscure self-published BBQ manual called Barbecue Chef, by Louis Spievak, is the first documented appearance of a Zombie recipe attributed to Don the Beachcomber. After years of copycats and second-rate knockoffs, including a ballyhooed appearance at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, was Beach finally releasing his most closely guarded secret? Yes and no. Spievak was a friend of Beach’s, so it’s likely the handiwork of the master. This mid-century version bears little resemblance of the 1934 recipe, so we’re left to assume that it was simply Beach throwing a bone to his friend. And simultaneously throwing his imitators off the scent. This version was also likely seen by very few, until it was resurrected by Tiki cocktail sleuth and budding author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in his second book, Intoxica (2003). That’s when things really got interesting.
* More: 1950 Zombie review and recipe
2007 – Jeff “Beachbum” Berry reveals Donn Beach’s original Zombie recipe. The Hollywood screenwriter turned tropical drink archaeologist began searching for authentic recipes, including the Zombie, during cocktail culture’s dark days in the 1980s. He relentlessly pursued retired bartenders from Tiki’s golden age, along with their kin, unearthing some real gems for his first two books, beginning with Beachbum Berry’s Grog Log (1998). While researching his groundbreaking third book, Berry realized that all of the previous published Zombie recipes, including those in his own books, were not the real deal. But he never gave up, piecing together the back-story from his many sources who worked for Beach. Berry’s revelation in Sippin’ Safari was the pinnacle of his detective work. You can read about his journey in the book as well as countless articles over the years. If you get the chance, be sure to catch “The Bum” live at one of his presentations at events across the globe. Or simply drop by his own watering hole, Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans, where you can sample a modern version of Beach’s classic Zombie.
* More: Beachbum Berry talks Zombies at The Mai-Kai
2010s – Tiki and craft cocktail bars worldwide embrace the authentic Zombie. Before Berry could open his own Tiki paradise in the Big Easy (with his wife, Annene Kaye) in 2014, the Tiki and craft cocktail revivals accelerated at a rapid rate, mostly on separate but parallel trajectories. But every so often, their paths would cross, and the Zombie was one of several cause célèbre cocktails in both camps during the past decade (and continuing to this day). Effectively eliminating most second-rate Zombies with a shot to the head, the modern wave took its inspiration from Berry’s published recipes (including another version attributed to Donn Beach in 1956), serving the cocktail both in authentic and inspired versions. Berry salutes his brethren in the 10th anniversary edition of Sippin’ Safari, publishing some of their recipes and telling their stories. “In 2017, you can once again Zombify yourself from coast to coast,” Berry wrote. Thankfully, the Zombification continues in 2022, with no end in sight.
* More: The Undead Gentleman by Martin Cate of Smuggler’s Cove
2021 – Ed Hamilton and Beachbum Berry join forces to create the first Zombie rum blend. After cracking the code to the Zombie and many other mysterious cocktails of Tiki’s golden age, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry turned his attention to Latitude 29, but he kept his finger on the pulse of the cocktail community. He teamed up with Cocktail Kingdom, publisher of his last several books, on a line of barware and glassware. Looking for the perfect cocktail ingredients, he consulted with Orgeat Works to create signature syrups for his bar that were also embraced by both the home and professional bartending communities. Taking that concept one step further, Berry and longtime rum importer Ed Hamilton hit upon the perfect concept for a new rum. Combining the infamous cocktail’s multiple rums into one bottle, Beachbum Berry’s Zombie Blend from Hamilton Rum simplifies the complicated cocktail for pros and novices alike. It’s also one damn fine rum blend, sourced from Hamilton’s contacts in the Caribbean and blended to Berry’s exacting specifications. Stay tuned for a deep dive into this rum, along with Hamilton and Berry’s new Navy Grog blend.
* More: Zombie hunters: Beachbum Berry, Ed Hamilton join forces on rum blend
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