Zombie alert: 5 crucial things you need to know about the deadly cocktail

Don the Beachcomber's Zombie

November 2013 update: Zombies regaining critical mass: New e-book features 86 deadly recipes

The living dead are enjoying an unprecedented renaissance. From the excellent AMC miniseries The Walking Dead (based on the Robert Kirkman comic book series), to a never-ending stream of books, to “zombie walk” events springing up during Halloween season, it’s clear that we’re fascinated with corpses rising from the dead like never before.

All of this flesh-eating hoopla has done little, however, to popularize a much less trendy and much more misunderstood Zombie: The infamous tropical drink that rose to infamy in the 1930s and was for decades perhaps the world’s most well-known cocktail. True to its name, the classic drink was shrouded in mystery, later becoming one of the most butchered recipes in cocktail history.

But several people and places have kept this powerful rum concoction alive and kicking, and to them we raise a hearty Zombie glass in tribute this Halloween:

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Hukilau rewind: A whirlwind weekend of tropical delights

* More photos and recaps: Facebook page | Facebook group
* Press coverage: Special audio feature and story from NPR | Broward New Times photos
* More coverage from The Atomic Grog
* Official photos from Go11 Media

The Hukilau

Hundreds of Tikiphiles from around the world gathered in Fort Lauderdale on April 19-22 for the 11th edition of the largest event on the U.S. East Coast dedicated to Polynesian Pop culture. It was a jam-packed four days of informative symposiums, live music, artists and vendors, and – of course – many tropical-themed cocktails.

Here’s a full recap with highlights and first-hand reports. Check back soon for more in-depth features on several of the symposiums, plus a special audio slideshow when all the photos are released.

The party actually started a day early on Wednesday, April 18, when early arrivals migrated to the legendary Mai-Kai restaurant for happy hour and a full evening spent reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. And with the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival holding its Tiki Time event that same evening, there were plenty of cocktail lovers in the house. Rum fest DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones provided the tunes in The Molokai bar and a large group enjoyed the authentic Polynesian dinner show, the longest running in the United States.

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Got Tiki trepidation? Here’s a Hukilau survival guide

The 2012 Hukilau will be held Thursday through Sunday, April 19-22, at The Mai-Kai and several Fort Lauderdale beachside hotels. Official sites: TheHukilau.com | Facebook

The Hukilau

To the uninitiated, this week’s avalanche of Tiki culture, retro art and music, rum drinks and revelry may be a bit over the top. To the devotees, it’s a Polynesian paradise come to life. If you’re not quite clued in to what’s going on, it can be a bit overwhelming.

But the best part about The Hukilau and all the related events happening this week in and around Fort Lauderdale is that it’s set up like a buffet. You can sample as little or as much as you like. Just make sure to have a designated driver if you’re really going for the gusto. Below is a daily rundown on what to expect and a little guidance from a veteran. Or Click here for the full schedule. TheHulilau.com also offers these tips from the natives.

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Beachbum Berry digs deep to unearth vintage Zombies, more ‘Potions of the Caribbean’

Previous: Hukilau announces mug, cocktails, new rum sponsor | Full Hukilau coverage

Beachbum Berry explains how to quickly pulse blend an original Zombie
Beachbum Berry explains how to quickly pulse blend an original Zombie at the 2011 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

In the latter years of the 20th century, there were two eras: B.B.B. and A.B.B. Before Beachbum Berry, it was the dark days, when tropical drink mixology was still mired in the depths of decades of misunderstanding and neglect. But After Beachbum Berry, that all changed.

A screenwriter and director formerly known as Jeff Berry took his obsession with finding the most authentic and painstakingly-crafted exotic cocktails of the early and mid-20th century to the masses. His five books – from Grog Log in 1998 through Beachbum Berry Remixed in 2009 – have redefined how we view Tiki drinks.

Sure, mixology probably still would have enjoyed its current and ongoing renaissance without him, but it would surely be a lot less colorful and fun place. But beyond the campy humor and aloha shirts, Berry takes his craft and research seriously. He spent 10 years tracking down the authentic recipe for the Zombie, perhaps the most elusive cocktail of its time.

You can view, and taste, the results of his research in a special symposium at the 11th annual Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, April 21. “Revenge Of The Zombie: The Tale of Tiki’s Deadliest Drink” will explore the development of one of history’s most infamous cocktails, from the 1930s to the present.

Continue reading “Beachbum Berry digs deep to unearth vintage Zombies, more ‘Potions of the Caribbean’”

Hukilau update: Commemorative mug, classic cocktails, and a new rum sponsor

Previous: Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai
Artist profile: The Martian Denny Orchestra | Sven Kirsten added to 2012 lineup
Hukilau launches new website with full event details | Full Hukilau coverage
Official sites: TheHukilau.com | Facebook page | Facebook group

With the U.S. East Coast’s largest celebration of Polynesian Pop culture quickly approaching, more details have been released about the April 19-22 event in Fort Lauderdale. Centered at the legendary Mai-Kai restaurant and two beachside hotels, the 11th annual Hukilau is shaping up to be a tikiphile’s paradise.

The latest news from Hukilau headquarters:

Hukilau 2012 commemorative mug by Tiki Diablo.
Hukilau 2012 commemorative mug by Tiki Diablo.

2012 COMMEMORATIVE MUG

Designed by Danny Gallardo, aka Tiki Diablo, this limited-edition drinking vessel was inspired by Milan Guanko, Hukilau organizer Tiki Kiliki’s favorite historic carver. When Gallardo sent her a photo of a Tiki from carver Richard Ellis that was made for the Tradewinds Restaurant in Oxnard, Calif., she immediately knew it was what she wanted: “This Tiki had everything we wanted and more. Danny has done an amazing job – we love it!”

To purchase one of the 250 mugs, click here.

MIXOLOGISTS SHOW THEIR SKILLS

While room parties will surely be ongoing throughout the weekend, the officially sanctioned cocktails will be centered around the pool and sun deck at the Best Western Oceanside Inn.

Continue reading “Hukilau update: Commemorative mug, classic cocktails, and a new rum sponsor”

Heeeeeeere’s the rich history and lost stories of The Mai-Kai

Updated August 2018
Latest news, related features
* The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail
* Rums of The Mai-Kai include potent, funky flavors from Guyana and Jamaica
* The Mai-Kai: 10 reasons why we love the historic South Florida restaurant
* The Mai-Kai turns 60 with history presentations, celebration
* New giant carved Tiki added to The Mai-Kai’s outdoor garden
* ‘King Kai’ leads procession of new Tikis into The Mai-Kai

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant

Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant
The definitive book on the historic Fort Lauderdale Tiki temple by Tim “Swanky” Glazner was released in September 2016. Get your copy now!
* Official website | Facebook page
More photos, stories

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The Mai-Kai: History, Mystery & Adventure
By Hurricane Hayward and Tim “Swanky” Glazner, February 2012

The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, now in its 56th year, is widely acclaimed as perhaps the last perfectly preserved mid-century Polynesian restaurant with its incredible vintage decor, acclaimed cocktails, authentic South Seas stage show, vast Asian-inspired menu and an ambience that makes you feel like you’ve been transported back in time.

One of the oldest Mai-Kai postcards, a rendering by architect Charles McKirahan. (From SwankPad.org)
One of the oldest Mai-Kai postcards, a rendering by architect Charles McKirahan. (From SwankPad.org)

But not many are aware of The Mai-Kai’s direct links to Tiki’s forefather, from the concept to the cocktails to the decor.

In 1933, a small tropical and nautical themed bar in Hollywood, Calif., called Don the Beachcomber was one of many thousands that opened the day after Prohibition ended. Who would have imagined that former rum-runner Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt, who later changed his name to Donn Beach, had invented a new genre of mixology and a bar/restaurant concept that would be copied across the globe for decades to come.

Of course, we’re talking about the classic Tiki bar and its exotic tropical drinks. At the dawn of the cocktail era, Donn Beach was the undisputed king of tropical mixology. In an era of drinks with two or three ingredients, his secret recipes included up to a dozen, including two or three rums, resulting in drinks the world had never seen before.

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A rum explosion: Miami festival set for same weekend as Hukilau in April

2012 Miami Rum Renaissance Festival: Monday, April 16, through Sunday, April 22, at the Deauville Beach Resort, Miami Beach. For more information, go to RumRenaissance.com.

It’s funny to see the reaction when people find out that The Hukilau, the 11th annual Tiki and rum-soaked weekender in Fort Lauderdale, has been moved to the same week as the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. “Whatever will we do?” Why, drink more rum, of course.

Miami Rum Renaissance Festival

Last year, there was a good six-week buffer zone, so our livers had time to recover. This year, however, it’s a full-on rum onslaught. On April 19-21 (Thursday through Saturday), rum will flow liberally at The Hukilau’s beachside host hotels, and during nightly parties at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Rum cocktail authority Jeff “Beachbum” Berry will highlight The Hukilau’s tropical-themed symposiums with his latest history lesson on the Zombie.

Meanwhile, less than 30 miles away on South Beach, the largest gathering of rum experts in the world will take over the ritzy Deauville (where the Beatles once played for Ed Sullivan) with VIP parties, competitions and “grand tasting” events. Rum Renaissance Festival organizers promise a bigger and better event this year with almost twice the square footage in the main exhibit hall, and many more rum brands from around the world.

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

A mint-heavy Zombie at The Mai-Kai, April 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated Oct. 31, 2018
See below: Our Zombie review | Ancestor recipes
UPDATES: New secret mix | Tribute recipe 4.0
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 and Cocktail Kingdom recently released a 10th anniversary edition of Sippin’ Safari, which includes 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 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.

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Exclusive Hukilau updates: 2012 tickets on sale, preview of events announced

Previous posts: Eclectic lineup of bands confirmed for 2012 Hukilau
Annual Hukilau in South Florida moves from June to April | Full Hukilau coverage

Information has been leaking out for months via Facebook but it’s finally now official: TheHukilau.com has launched for 2012 with a list of activities and info, ticket prices and online ordering. The Atomic Grog is happy to present some exclusive, additional details.

TheHukilau.com

The biggest news for the April 19-22 Polynesian Pop extravaganza: A new host hotel, even more events at The Mai-Kai, and a special Beachbum Berry cocktail symposium. While a new Web designer puts the finishing touches on the 2012 site, Hukilau producer/organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White filled us in on some of the details:

New host hotel: The beachside Best Western Oceanside Inn will offer festival attendees a more affordable and intimate experience, Tiki Kiliki says. It’s located just south of The Hukilau’s longtime party central, the Bahia Cabana Beach Resort. You can make reservations at both hotels now by calling the phone numbers listed on TheHukilau.com. To get the best rooms at special group rates, you must call these numbers now instead of making reservations online.

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We be Jammin: Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai

Zombie Jamboree

Related links
* See our photos from the event | Our event preview | More on Rum Renaissance
* Our recipe (with photos) for the Atomic Zombie Cocktail

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry teaches a graduate course on the Zombie
Jeff "Beachbum" Berry teaches a graduate course on the Zombie.

There was enough revelry and hard-core mixology on display this past Monday to wake the long-dead Tiki spirits at the legendary Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.

The occasion was a collision course of Tiki culture and rum appreciation known as the Zombie Jamboree, the kickoff party for the seven-day Miami Rum Renaissance Festival.

The evening consisted of three components. First, Tiki drink expert and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s seminar on the history of the Zombie cocktail, then the best contemporary mixologists competing in the “Zombie Jam,” followed by The Mai-Kai’s show and dinner.

When I first heard about this event, I had to pinch myself. Had I died and gone to Tiki heaven? My favorite Mai-Kai drink was being celebrated with a seminar by my mixology guru and a contest that was just beckoning for me to enter. So enter I did.

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