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

Zombie killers: Beachbum Berry and Ed Hamilton join forces on new 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. It’s the first joint rum project for both and is expected to hit stores and bars across America this summer.

Ed Hamilton shows off the label and talks about his new rum project with Beachbum Berry on a Zoom call on May 14
Ed Hamilton shows off the label and talks about his new rum project with Beachbum Berry on a Zoom call on May 14.

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.

Beachbum Berry is the world's foremost authority on the Zombie cocktail. (Photo by Jonpaul Balak)
Beachbum Berry is the world’s foremost authority on the Zombie cocktail. (Photo by Jonpaul Balak)

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.

The hardcover 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari was published in 2017 by Cocktail Kingdom
The hardcover 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari was published in 2017 by Cocktail Kingdom.

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!”

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Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida

Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida

Updated Dec. 23, 2020

Importer Ed Hamilton has announced the arrival of a new Hamilton Rum blend bottled for the Florida Rum Society, soon to be available in retail locations across the Sunshine State. Plans call for the rum, a blend of Jamaican and Guyanese rums, to be distributed in 2021 to other states as well.

Ministry of Rum Private Collection, Florida Rum Society Blend

The first shipment arrived in Orlando on Friday (Dec. 4) from Hamilton’s New York bottling facility, he announced during a Zoom happy hour event that evening. On Thursday, he teased Florida rum lovers with an Instagram post containing the label, announcing that the rum was “on I-75 on the way to Florida.”

Jump below: 15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum
Recipe: Hamilton Navy Grog, as served at The Mai-Kai

The quick arrival pleased the longtime rum connoisseur, author and owner of his own boutique label and import company, Caribbean Spirits. The new rum will be part of Hamilton’s Ministry of Rum Private Collection, containing a similar label but more limited-edition bottlings than his standard Ministry of Rum releases. These include a variety of rum blends sourced from Jamaica, Guyana, St. Lucia and other islands.

He also imports a selections of acclaimed rums from Martinique, including the Neisson, La Favorite and Duquesne labels. Ministry of Rum refers to the website and message board Hamilton launched in the late 1990s that remains an essential reference tool for researching and learning about all rum.

Ed Hamilton spars with rum ambassador Ian Burrell at the first Miami Rum Congress in February 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
Ed Hamilton spars with rum ambassador Ian Burrell at thefirst Miami Rum Congress in February 2019. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

For the Florida Rum Society blend, Hamilton said he went with a modified version of his popular Navy Strength blend, a powerful 114-proof combination of 60 percent Guyana rum and 40 percent Jamaican rum. The new blend is more accessible, clocking in a 45 percent alcohol by volume, or 90 proof. Hamilton said the blend is 65 percent from Demerara Distillers in Guyana and 35 percent from Worthy Park Estate in Jamaica.

Besides the proof and percentages, there’s a slight variation the age of the rum, Hamilton said. The Jamaican component is a 1-year-old rum while the Navy blend contains unaged distillate. The Guyanese rum is the same blend of 2- to 5-year-old rums that Hamilton uses in the Navy Strength bottling, as well as the Hamilton 86 and 151 Guyana rums that are well-known and loved at Tiki bars across the country. Check our in-depth look at Hamilton’s journey in bringing these rums to market, and their use at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.

The Florida Rum Society blend promises to be more versatile and just as tasty as the Navy blend, its lower proof and added aging making it more assessable as a sipper and all-purpose mixer. It’s also a higher proof than the similar New York Blend, an 84-proof version of the Navy blend. At 65 percent Demerara, it could also make a fine substitute for Hamilton 86 in cocktails. During the Zoom meeting, Hamilton sipped on one of his favorite easy-to-make highballs, a blend of Hamilton 86, Hamilton Jamaican Pimento Dram, and orange juice. I tried a mix of 1 part dram, 3 parts rum and 6 parts juice, and it was delicious.

The flagship Hamilton rums from Guyana are available at Total Wine stores in Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2016)
The flagship Hamilton rums from Guyana are available at Total Wine stores in Florida. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, August 2016)

The new rum should also work well in classic Tiki cocktails that call for a roughly equal blend of non-overproof Demerara and Jamaican rums, such as the Navy Grog (and Beachbum Berry’s The Ancient Mariner), Pearl Diver’s Punch, and Sidewinder’s Fang. The extra 5 percent ABV will give the drink a boost to help it hew closer to the original rums. In the mid-century heyday, it was not unusual for standard mixing rums to be higher than 80 proof, especially those from Guyana and Jamaica. During the Zoom meeting, I enjoyed a Navy Grog featuring three of Hamilton’s signature rums (see recipe below).

Follow the Florida Rum Society on Facebook and Instagram for updates on distribution. Hamilton confirmed that the main retail location will be the Sarasota Liquor Locker. The rum society boasts a robust online store with quick delivery across the state featuring rums stocked by the Sarasota store.

UPDATE: Sarasota Liquor Locker and the rum society’s online shop were the first get the rum. Soon after, it was on its way to Five Star Liquor & Wine in Orlando, Primo Liquors in Broward County (multiple ocations), Big Game Liquors in Miami, and Beach Liquors in the Panhandle (multiple ocations).

Florida Rum Society

Hamilton said he expects retail outlets across the state to carry the rum. Part of the goal of the partnership with the Florida Rum Society, he said, is to leverage the group’s influence to persuade more retailers to carry the Hamilton (and Caribbean Spirits) product line. The bottling includes 112 cases, he said, though he didn’t rule out another batch in the future depending on demand. If the store you frequent in Florida doesn’t carry Hamilton rums, or you’d like to request the new blend, ask them to contact the distributor: Progress Wine Group from Opa Locka, (321) 230-4682.

UPDATE: The Florida Rum Society announced an online cocktail contest featuring the new blend, with the winner earning “a hoard” of Hamilton rums. The group has quickly ramped up its activities after forming only in mid-2019. Members began holding in-person gatherings before the pandemic and have continued them online, with Hamilton and other high-profile rum industry veterans, such as Privateer Rum’s Maggie Campbell, joining in.

The Hamilton blend is not the society’s first special bottling. Just last week, a Plantation 2008 single cask rum from Guyana featuring a Florida Rum Society label landed in Orlando. This label release is extremely limited (just 140 bottles) and available at Five Star. There are also a few bottles remaining at Five Star from the exclusive (214 bottles) release in August of a 109.2 proof New England rum from Privateer dubbed Rumdemic. The release marked the return of Privateer’s single barrel program (now known as the Letter of Marque series).

If that’s not enough for Florida rum fanciers, another exclusive release is coming in 2021. The Florida Rum Society Masters Selection from Chairman’s Reserve and St. Lucia Distillers is available for pre-sale at Jensen’s Liquors in Miami. This 115.6 proof blend is expected around April. Shipping and pick-up are both available.

For more on the Florida Rum Society, check out the interview with founder Jay Cocorullo on the Rumcast podcast, episode 14.

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15 things you need to know about Ed Hamilton and Hamilton Rum

As part of the inaugural Miami Rum Congress in February 2019, the “Minister of Rum” (he actually prefers to be called “Administer of Rum”) hosted his first-ever master class at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale on his Hamilton Rum product line, including a discussion of his journey from Caribbean sailboat adventurer to rum importer and label owner.

Hamilton Rum master class at The Mai-Kai

The hands-on symposium took place in the historic restaurant’s intimate Samoa dining room and included rum and cocktail samples, plus a heaping helping of Hamilton’s wit and wisdom. Here are a few nuggets we gleaned from the presentation:

* After studying chemical and mechanical engineering and getting his college degree, Hamilton worked a job “selling bomb parts” in the mid-1970s. “It really wasn’t something I wanted to base my career on,” he said. When his boss queried him about what he wanted to be doing in five years, he exclaimed: “Go sailing.” Asked how he could make that happen, he replied: “I quit.” He says never spent another day looking for a job after that.

Continue reading “Rum Spotlight: Ed Hamilton brings new West Indies blend to Florida”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Patriotism never tasted as good as the S.O.S.

The S.O.S. was one of three cocktails featured at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in June in Hurricane Hayward's Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class, How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai

Updated July 2018
See below: Our S.O.S. review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Most classic Mai-Kai cocktails can be traced back to tropical drink pioneer Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber), and the S.O.S. is no exception. Most are easy to spot due to the similar names (Cobra’s Fang = Cobra’s Kiss, Pearl Diver = Deep-Sea Diver). But others are a little harder to trace.

Three Dots and a Dash
From a 1950s Don the Beachcomber menu.

The clue to the origins of S.O.S. is actually the garnish: the distinctive three speared cherries. In reviewing old Don the Beachcomber menus, it’s hard to miss the classic Three Dots and a Dash, a tribute to Americans fighting overseas. “Three dots and a dash” was Morse code for “victory” during World War II, when Donn Beach created the drink. Beach served in the Army Air Corps and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Thanks to tropical drink historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, we also have the recipe to compare. Mai-Kai mixologist Mariano Licudine, who knew Donn Beach’s recipes well from his days slinging drinks at Don the Beachcomber in Los Angeles and Chicago, simply changed the name to S.O.S. and tweaked the complex recipe to make it a bit more user friendly.

The result is a highly recommended cocktail from the mild side of The Mai-Kai’s menu, full of nuances yet still not too overpowering. Be sure to pick up the expanded and updated 10th anniversary edition of Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari, featuring many new and historic recipes, a new hardcover design with additional photos, plus forward and afterward that chronicle the years leading up to the Tiki revival plus the influence the book has had over the past decade.

July 2018 update: The S.O.S. was one of three cocktails featured at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in June in Hurricane Hayward’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class, “How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai.” In the sold-out event, students learned tips and techniques for turning their home bars into a Tiki cocktail paradise by exploring the key elements of Mai-Kai cocktails.
The S.O.S. was one of three cocktails featured at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale in June in Hurricane Hayward's Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy class, How to Mix Like The Mai-Kai
(Atomic Grog photos from The Hukilau’s Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina on June 8, 2018)
After explaining the importance of fresh Florida juices, Hayward demonstrated how to make the S.O.S. tribute recipe while the class received sample drinks. The juices and syrups, along with a simplified rum profile, give the S.O.S. an altogether different flavor than Three Dots and a Dash, the students learned. The juices take a more prominent role, and the S.O.S. is a great spotlight for the fresh Florida orange juice used in many Mai-Kai drinks.
See photos from the class: Facebook | Flickr

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Patriotism never tasted as good as the S.O.S.”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman's Grog

Updated December 2020
See below: Our Yeoman’s Grog review | Ancestor recipe
Tribute recipe | Navy Grog from Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 NEW
Related: Hamilton Navy Grog recipe (served at The Mai-Kai, February 2019) NEW
Navy Grog ice cone: Lost art revived by cocktail enthusiasts
Mai-Kai cocktail guide

It goes without saying that The Atomic Grog is a big fan of any traditional “grog,” and the Yeoman’s Grog at The Mai-Kai is one of the best. But where exactly does the term “grog” come from? And what’s the story behind the Yeoman’s Grog?

Admiral Edward "Old Grog" Vernon. (Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough - from Wikipedia)
Admiral Edward “Old Grog” Vernon. (Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough – from Wikipedia)

In the British Navy, it became tradition in the mid-1600s to grant seamen a daily ration of rum, often replacing the traditional beer, wine, arrack and brandy. In 1731, an official Navy declaration was made granting a daily ration of wine or rum while on foreign stations. The Cocktail Wonk blog features several deep dives into the history of rum in the British Navy.

In 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon – nicknamed “Old Grog” because of the cloak made of grogram (a silk fabric) that he always wore – sought to cut down on rampant drunkenness. So he ordered what by then had become the official daily rum ration of an imperial half-pint (10 U.S. ounces) be diluted with four parts water.

Some years later, when it was believed that citrus fruit prevented scurvy, lime juice was added to the mix along with sugar to improve the flavor. The world’s first proper tropical drink was born, named the “Grog” after Old Grog himself. In the James Beard Award winning book Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki (2016), Martin and Rebecca Cate pay tribute to a Grog from the 1700s with a recipe featuring 1/2 ounce lime juice, 1/2 ounce Demerara syrup, and 2 ounces of rum. Shake with cubed or cracked ice and strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass.
* More on Navy rum: When men were men, and sailors drank Daiquiris

From a classic Don the Beachcomber menu
From a classic Don the Beachcomber menu.

Roughly 200 years later, when tropical drinks were all the rage in the mid-century, so were “Grogs.” There was the Colonial Grog from Tiki bar pioneer Don the Beachcomber, Voodoo Grog from Don’s competitor Trader Vic, the Captain’s Grog from the Captain’s Inn (Long Beach, Calif.), and many versions of the Coffee Grog.

But the most famous was easily the Navy Grog, popularized by Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic), its name and flavor profile paying tribute to the original quaffed on the high seas. Beach is credited with serving it first, dedicating the drink “to the gallant men of the American Navy.” The influence and reach of this classic cannot be understated. Just ask Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, the author and Tiki cocktail archaeologist who dug up most of the aforementioned recipes and published them in his six seminal books and app.

In the introduction to Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them (2014), the influential writer talks about the life-changing moment he had 30 years earlier, “sitting in a restaurant I couldn’t afford while sipping a drink I didn’t understand. The restaurant was Trader Vic’s, the drink a Navy Grog.” The self-described “Tiki nerd” became obsessed with finding out why he liked the drink so much and figuring out where it came from. The rest is Tiki revival history.

The Yeoman's Grog is a favorite of Tiki historian and author Sven Kirsten, seen here sharing a toast with Hurricane Hayward on New Year's Eve 2016. (Atomic Grog photo)
The Yeoman’s Grog is a favorite of Tiki historian and author Sven Kirsten, seen here sharing a toast with Hurricane Hayward on New Year’s Eve 2016 in The Mai-Kai’s Molokai lounge. (Atomic Grog photo)

But Berry was just one of many famous (and infamous) figures who were smitten with the Navy Grog. It was believed to be one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite drinks (even though ‘Ol Blue Eyes preferred Bourbon). President Richard Nixon was a fan, sneaking away from the White House to quaff a few after hours at Trader Vic’s in the Capitol Hilton. Not coincidentally, Nixon was a Navy lieutenant who served in the South Pacific. In 2003, record producer Phil Spector enjoyed several Navy Grogs at the Beverly Hills Trader Vic’s the night he murdered actress Lana Clarkson. Court testimony by a Vic’s bartender included reference to the drink’s robust 3 ounces of rum.

Don the Beachcomber’s version also features 3 ounces of rum, and both employ grapefruit and lime juices. The only major difference is the sweetener: Donn Beach preferred his signature honey mix, while Trader Vic used an allspice syrup. Trader Vic’s restaurants use a proprietary “Navy Grog Concentrate,” but Berry has revealed (and taste tests confirm) that this is indeed just a fancy syrup.

Which of the two classics is best depends on who you ask. They’re roughly equal in our estimation. So we checked The Grogalizer, the Tiki home-bartending site that features ratings of some 500 cocktail recipes from Berry and Cate, plus more. With 81 votes, Don the Beachcomber’s version rates 8.2 (out of 10), while Trader Vic’s version scores 7.5 on 22 votes.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog”