Minimalist Tiki

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

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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.

Modern Caribbean Rum
A vintage 1940s Zombie matchbook image from Monte Proser's Beachcomber restaurant in Baltimore
A vintage 1940s Zombie matchbook image from Monte Proser's Beachcomber restaurant in Baltimore. (From the collection of Jonpaul Balak)

Scheduled for 2 p.m. at The Mai-Kai, the symposium is an updated version of one that Berry presented only once before, at last year’s Miami Rum Renaissance Festival. Even if you attended that event, you’ll still want to check out The Hukilau presentation. Berry plans several new features, including a vintage film clip with sound, in addition to a slide show and mixology demonstrations. There will also, of course, be samples of several vintage Zombies.

So what’s the big deal about the Zombie? From the end of Prohibition to the dawn of disco, it was the world’s most famous drink. It kick-started the Tiki craze, and it established Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood as the epicenter of the exotic drink world. Its inventor, Donn Beach, kept his original recipe a closely guarded secret, known only to a few key bartenders. When Berry finally found it, he still had to decipher the secret code that kept it from being stolen by competitors. To reserve your seat in The Mai-Kai’s main dining room for this special symposium, click here to order tickets now.

This is a rare recent appearance by Berry, who – despite his legend as a laggard – has been hard at work on his sixth cocktail book. What’s next for this Tiki sleuth? Here’s the scoop, straight from the Bum: “As the most famous variation on the traditional Jamaican Planter’s Punch, the Zombie figures heavily in my new book, Beachbum Berry’s Potions of the Caribbean: 500 years of Tropical Drinks … and the People Behind Them.

“It’ll be published by the end of the year, through Mud Puddle Books, in a fully illustrated deluxe edition. Potions features 77 historical recipes, including 16 that have never before been published in any form, and another 19 that have never been published in book form (only in old newspapers and magazines, or in souvenir pamphlets given away by bars). The remaining recipes come from books that for the most part have long been out of print.”

Beachbum Berry's five cocktail guides are the tropical drink mixologist's go-to resource.
Beachbum Berry's five cocktail guides are the tropical drink mixologist's go-to resource.

This sounds like a sequel to my personal favorite, 2007’s Sippin’ Safari. This must-have book not only presented some great historical recipes and full-color photos and images, but also weaved never-before-heard stories from the mixologists and others who where there. It sounds like Potions is also going to be much more than just a recipe book. Keep an eye on this blog or Berry’s official site for updates on publication dates.

Picked by Imbibe magazine as one of the 25 most influential cocktail personalities of the 20th century, Berry has also taken the art into the 21st century as co-creator of the Tiki+ app for the iPhone and iPad, featuring more than 150 drink recipes, ingredient resources and more. Berry is a master mixologist in his own right: His drinks have been served at some of the top bars around the world, including PDT in Manhattan, Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, the Tiki Room in Stockholm, and Intoxica in Copenhagen.

Official sites
* | | Facebook page | Facebook group | The Mai-Kai

Past Atomic Grog coverage
* Rum Rat Pack starts a revolution at Hukilau 2011
* The Hukilau crowns a Rum Barrel Master Mixologist
* Rum Renaissance Zombie fest at The Mai-Kai | Review of The Mai-Kai’s Zombie
* All posts featuring Beachbum Berry | Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide

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