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.
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:
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Invented by tropical drink and Tiki bar pioneer Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s, the infamous Zombie cocktail took the world by storm more than 75 years ago. When the great wave of Polynesian Pop faded in the 1970s, so did the Zombie. Its secret original recipe was seemingly lost forever with only a few remaining Tiki palaces, such as The Mai-Kai, carrying on Don The Beachcomber’s legacy.
But then along came the Tiki revival of the 1990s and “cocktail archaeologist” Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. He unearthed long-forgotten Zombie recipes in his seminal books Grog Log (1998) and Intoxica (2002), both recently re-released in the revised and updated anthology Beachbum Berry Remixed (2010).
But it was Berry’s fourth book, Sippin’ Safari (2007), that truly blew the lid off the great “lost” tropical drink recipes and the people behind them. An entire chapter explores the Zombie and its history, finally nailing down the true “original recipe.” The book’s final chapter is devoted to The Mai-Kai, one of the last places on earth making drinks directly descended from the Don The Beachcomber classics.
At the Zombie Jamboree, Berry will present his graduate-level thesis seminar on the original creation of – and the further evolution of – the Zombie cocktail, featuring samples of Don’s classic 1934 and 1956 recipes for guests to taste.
The seminar will be followed by the “Zombie Jam,” demonstrations by notable mixologists – including yours truly – with their own variations of the infamous Zombie cocktail. Guests will be asked to vote for the drink they enjoy most with the winner crowned “Zombie Master” of Rum Renaissance 2011.