Minimalist Tiki

Wake the dead, it’s time for the Atomic Zombie Cocktail

Atomic Zombie Cocktail

* See our full report (with photos) on the Zombie Jamboree

As the only “amateur mixologist” at the first-ever “Zombie Jamboree” at The Mai-Kai, the kickoff of the annual spirits extravaganza known as Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, I had to come up with something special. After all, The Mai-Kai is my home turf and the Zombie is one of my favorite all-time drinks. The Mai-Kai’s version, with lineage traced back to the original Don The Beachcomber classic, is my favorite drink at the legendary Polynesian palace.

So what I came up with is a riff on the classic with contemporary stylings. It has that great classic Zombie flavor profile but with a few special twists. I hope you dig it.

(Copyright 2011, Hurricane Hayward and The Atomic Grog)

* Click here for instructions on making a batch recipe

* 5 ounce cocktail glass, chilled

* Medium shaker with strainer
* Muddler
* Wire strainer

Atomic Zombie Cocktail


* 1 lime wedge
* Ground demerara sugar (for rimming glass; use food processor or spice grinder to reduce coarse grains to a finer texture)

* 1 large sprig of mint
* 1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
* 1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice

* 1/2 ounce high-quality light rum (Flor de Caña Extra Dry 4-year-old from Nicaragua preferred)
* 1/2 ounce premium aged rum (Ron Zacapa Centenario 23-year-old from Guatemala preferred)
* 3/4 ounce dark Jamaican rum (Coruba preferred)
* 3/4 ounce Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum (no substitutions)

* 1/2 ounce St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
* 1/8 ounce falernum (John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum Liqueur preferred)

* 1/4 ounce rich demerara sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part of water cooked into a syrup over heat)
* 1/4 ounce Don’s Mix (2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part cinnamon-infused sugar syrup; B.G. Reynolds makes a nice bottled version)

* 2-3 dashes of Peychaud Bitters
* Absinthe (or Pernod if necessary)

Ingredient breakdown
* 3 1/8 oz. of rums, liquors
* 1 1/2 oz. juices, syrups
After shaking with ice, yield should be one 5-ounce cocktail

Atomic Zombie Cocktail

Atomic Zombie Cocktail

Prepare glass (optional)
Moisten rim of chilled glass with lime wedge and dip in ground demerara sugar (pictured at right).

Make drink

Place mint in shaker and gently bruise with muddler for 15-20 seconds, coating bottom and sides of shaker with oils from mint.
Add rums and muddle for 15-20 seconds.

Add remaining ingredients to shaker (except for absinthe).
Add 1 cup of cubed ice and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds.

AAtomic Zombie Cocktail

Atomic Zombie Cocktail

Coat inside of glass with absinthe (pictured at right), leaving small puddle (around 1/2 teaspoon, less if using Pernod). (Eyedropper works well for this.)

Strain drink through shaker/strainer plus wire mesh strainer into glass, leaving no traces of mint leaves (pictured above).

Notify next of kin … and enjoy!

Drink discussion

OK, so mixing with Ron Zacapa Centenario 23, traditionally a sipping rum, is frowned upon but it works perfectly in this high-octane, high-end concoction. I played around with various rums but settled on the four above simply because they work well together and create a unique flavor, just as Don The Beachcomber (aka Donn Beach) did more than 70 years ago when he created the original Zombie.

FYI, ingredients shared by Donn’s 1934 original and the Atomic Zombie Cocktail are lime juice, Don’s Mix, falernum, dark Jamaican and 151 Demerara rums, bitters and Herbsaint/Pernod. This is what gives the drink it’s core flavor, along with the mint.

Beachbum Berry mixes a classic Zombie at the Zombie Jam at The Mai-Kai on April 25.
Beachbum Berry mixes a classic Zombie at the Zombie Jam at The Mai-Kai on April 25.

However, the only truly original ingredients are the mint, lime juice, Don’s Mix and Lemon Hart 151, the only high-proof Demerara with the correct flavor profile for the Zombie and many other classic Tiki drinks. It’s been in short supply lately, so you may need to buy online or check this Facebook page for distribution updates. There are allegedly decent substitutes but use these at your own peril. Don’s Mix, of course, was the super-secret coded ingredient that remained elusive until cracked by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in his book Sippin’ Safari (a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the Zombie). The cinnamon/grapefruit combination adds another crucial flavor that shines through in the final product.

I gave the others a tweak, using French Absinthe instead of Pernod (more on this later), Coruba Jamaican rum (Don used Lowndes, similar to Appleton V/X) and a different style of falernum. I tried the Fee Brothers brand (which is similar to what Don used in 1934) but thought the Velvet Falernum Liqueur, with its added firepower, added yet another potent flavor to the mix. Use a non-alcohol brand if you prefer. I felt the sweet Coruba was the right Jamaican rum choice to balance the powerful Zacapa.

I did a switcheroo on the bitters was well, using Peychaud instead of the traditional Angostura. You can use the latter if you prefer but I thought the milder, sweeter Peychaud was better suited to balance this monster. I actually grabbed it off the shelf as a lark (see below) and it ended up working perfectly.

Mint goes into giant shakers during the Zombie Jam cocktail contest at The Mai-Kai on April 25.
Mint goes into giant shakers during the Zombie Jam cocktail contest at The Mai-Kai on April 25. (Photo by

Another twist is the muddling of the mint. The mint is later strained out, so don’t be afraid to bruise the hell out of it. This will infuse that great mint flavor, which is essential to the Zombie, into the drink.

A few of the other ingredients (lemon juice, white rum, demerara syrup) are used in other Zombie recipes and help flesh out the full flavor. I’d recommend the rich 2:1 syrup for full impact in this compact concoction. The light rum choice probably doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things but I like to go with a universally recommended brand such as Flor de Cana.

The St. Germain (made with fresh wild elderflowers picked in the Alps) may or may not be detectable but discerning palates should taste this sweet, fragrant liquor mingling in the mix. I used it in lieu of a sweet frut syrup, such as passion fruit, which was featured in the 1950 Zombie. It’s one of the pricier ingredients, along with the Zacapa and absinthe, but well worth using. All three add an extra touch of class and a distinctive twist.

The other distinctive touch is the demerara sugar rim. This is one of several nods to the modern cocktail revival (along with the St. Germain and Peychaud). This coarse sugar is easier to work with when ground in a food processor. I’ve labeled it an optional feature for those hard-core cocktailians and rummies who may want the full impact of the great rums. But for those who like a little sweeter taste or need to quell the fire a bit, the sugar does the trick nicely.

One other suggestion: If you feel the drink needs a bit more dilution, substitute crushed for cubed ice and you should get just a bit more water out of the shaker.

So where did the idea of coating the inside of the glass with absinthe come from? From the 19th century classic (and very non-Tiki) Sazerac, of course. I don’t really care for this whiskey cocktail but always thought the absinthe technique was really cool. And while I was at it, I lifted the Peychaud’s Bitters from this recipe as well.

If you can’t get your hands on proper absinthe, feel free to use Pernod. Just dial back to as little as 1/4 teaspoon since typically Pernod will have a stronger anise flavor.

When batch mixing 80 drinks at the Zombie Jam there was no choice but to add the absinthe directly into the shaker, but if you make this at home do yourself a favor and try coating the glass (just be sure to use the exact measurement … too much will overpower the drink). You’ll get a great last gulp from the lower layer of anise, leaving a lasting impression. (Also be sure to chill the glass with ice beforehand … it keeps the drink at the proper temperature.)

So there you have it. A total of 15 ingredients if you use the ground sugar and count Don’s Mix as two. With one foot in the great Don The Beachcomber Zombie tradition and another in the grave, this is one deadly cocktail.

Atomic Zombie Cocktail

* Zombie alert: 5 crucial things you need to know about the deadly cocktail
* Rums of The Mai-Kai: Legendary Lemon Hart returns to the promised land
* Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide: The theory of evolution of the Zombie

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