Modern Caribbean Rum

RECIPES: French, Haitian Zombies reflect true roots of deadly cocktail’s namesake legend

RECIPES: French, Haitian Zombies reflect true roots of deadly cocktail's namesake legend

Until cocktail author and historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry unearthed the mystery behind Don the Beachcomber’s classic Zombie cocktail, the true recipe lay buried for more than 70 years. Berry’s discovery and publication of his findings in the groundbreaking Sippin’ Safari (2007) spurred a revival and greater appreciation of the deadly drink that continues to this day.

Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari
An ad for ‘Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari’ around the time of its original release.

Simultaneously and coincidentally, the world of cinema also went zombie crazy, ushering in a renaissance of the modern horror archetype. Of the 30 films on a recently published list of “The best zombie movies of all time,” half were released in the 21st century.

With the precision of a pathologist, Berry dissected and definitively revealed the template that the bootlegger turned Tiki cocktail pioneer used to create what was arguably the most popular drink of the post-Prohibition era. The original 1934 recipe is a groundbreaking masterpiece, combining multiple rums and spices with sweet and sour juices and syrups, bitters, and even a touch of anise. Stay tuned for the upcoming book (Searching for Don the Beachcomber) and film (The Donn of Tiki) for the full story of his life and times.

But what inspired the name of the cocktail? We can only assume it was White Zombie, released just a year or two before the drink and considered to be the first zombie film. Starring monster movie legend Béla Lugosi, it’s a far cry from today’s gore fests featuring flesh-eating corpses. The movie is actually fairly faithful to the true folklore, spinning the tale of a Haitian voodoo priest who drugs his victims and turns them into zombie slaves.

Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) shows off what appears to be a Zombie along with some of his other groundbreaking creations
Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) shows off what appears to be a Zombie along with some of his other groundbreaking creations. (From TheDonnOfTiki.com)

In the ensuring years, that origin story has been widely ignored by pop culture. The movie genre traces its modern roots to director George Romero and his 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead. Nearly every movie or TV series since has loosely followed Romero’s template of reanimated corpses mindlessly running amok for no apparent reason, with political and social statements thrown in for good measure.

Back in the 1930s, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (who later legally changed his name to Donn Beach) simply borrowed the name and made no attempt at connecting it to its island of origin. But what if we go back to the roots of the true zombie legend and use it as inspiration for not one, but two new Zombie cocktails?

SEE BELOW: New original cocktails
>>> LE ZOMBI
>>> VODOU ZONBI (Haitian Zombie)

But first, here’s a quick history lesson on the mythology and cultural significance of what has become known as the zombie.

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BACKGROUND: Haitian zombie folklore rooted in slavery, French colonialism

The true story behind zombie folklore is scarier and more tragic than a movie.

"Zombies" by Haitian artist Wilson Bigaud, 1953 (oil on board mounted on wood panel). Part of the Haitian Collection at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.
“Zombies” by Haitian artist Wilson Bigaud, 1953 (oil on board mounted on wood panel). Part of the Haitian Collection at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

Like its sister islands, what is now Haiti was invaded and colonized by a European power. France established Saint-Domingue in 1664, growing it into the richest sugar colony in the Caribbean on the backs of African slaves.

The brutal practice came to a violent end in 1791, when slaves staged a mass revolt and rose up against their oppressors. By 1794, the French government abolished slavery throughout its empire, more than 70 years before the 13th Amendment ended the practice in the United States.

The revolt sparked the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804 with the island’s independence and heroic ex-slave Toussaint Louverture installed as Haiti’s first governor general. It was a defining moment in the history of the Atlantic World, distinctive as the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state that was both free from slavery and ruled by non-whites and former captives.

The legend of the zombie, or “zonbi” as it was known in Haitian Creole culture, could be considered a metaphor for the horrors of slavery.

A zonbi at twilight in sugar cane field in Haiti. (Wikimedia Commons)
A zonbi at twilight in sugar cane field in Haiti. (Wikimedia Commons)

The word itself and the concept of zombie-like creatures can be traced back to African origins. Some research has also found a connection to the island’s indigenous Taíno people, known for their shamanist practices. The African slaves brought with them traditions and from their homeland, including the “Vodou” religion.

Haitian Vodou developed between the 16th and 19th centuries, merging traditional religions of west and central Africa with Roman Catholicism. In Haitian culture, a zonbi is a dead body brought back to life by a Vodou sorcerer known as a “bokor.” According to legend, the zonbi is under the total control of the bokor as a personal slave and lacks any will of its own. It’s part of a complex, spiritual belief (“soul dualism”) that a person has two or more kinds of souls.

One soul (“body soul”) is associated with body functions while the other (“free soul” or “wandering soul”) can leave the body. In the belief system of the enslaved Africans brought to Haiti, the afterlife included a return to their homeland, where both souls were reunited. However, if they had offended their voodoo deity, they would remain a zonbi and be a slave for eternity.

The Magic Island

The fear of “zombification” was used by slave drivers to discourage slaves from committing suicide. These men who directed the daily work were often slaves themselves and sometimes also practicing voodoo priests, according to scholars. After the revolution, the zonbi became part of Haitian folklore, a stirring reminder of the past in the hope that it never happens again.

The earliest references to zombies in the United States, cited throughout the 1800s, were also closely associated with slavery and connected to African traditions. But the phenomenon went mainstream during the United States’ military occupation of Haiti (1915–1934).

Travel writer William Seabrook’s book, The Magic Island (1929), revealed “voodoo cults” in Haiti and likely inspired the 1932 film White Zombie. Though it takes place in Haiti, the film twists the legend to appeal to its American audience. I Walked With A Zombie, a 1943 horror movie set in a fictional Caribbean island, further strays from the original legend. By 1968 and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the horror film was cloaked in social commentary and civil rights, leaving Haiti’s zonbi myth to the history books.

Zombi Child

The Haitian zombie made a brief comeback in 1985, when anthropologist Wade Davis published his controversial findings in the book The Serpent and the Rainbow, which recounted his experiences investigating Vodou cults in Haiti. It was criticized for scientific inaccuracies in regards to its theories about psychoactive drugs, but it was a commercial success and inspired the 1988 horror film of the same name (starring Bill Pullman).

But just when you thought the legend was dead and buried, a more socially aware mindset has sparked new interest.

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Minimalist Tiki

Photos: VIPs, connoisseurs of fine spirits flock to first Miami Rum Congress

Miami Rum Congress 2019

The inaugural Miami Rum Congress was an unqualified success, a star-studded gathering of rum industry experts that sold out the cozy and picturesque Shane Center in Miami Beach.
GALLERY: Scroll down to see the photos

Rum ambassador Ian Burrell kicks off The Tiki Takeover bartender battle.
Rum ambassador Ian Burrell kicks off The Tiki Takeover bartender battle.

Hosted by Federico Hernandez of The Rum Lab and global rum ambassador Ian Burrell, the event spotlighted many of the world’s top boutique brands while presenting serious discussion of today’s hottest industry issues. The tasting room featured new and exclusive bottles from a number of the most acclaimed producers and distillers, such as Foursquare’s Richard Seale of Barbados.

Other brands and distillers in attendance included Appleton and Wray & Nephew, Banks, Bounty, Caliche, Damoiseau, Deadhead, Don Q, English Harbour, Gosling, Habitation Velier, Hamilton, Hampden Estates, Mezan Rum, Montanya, Monymusk, Mount Gay, Plantation, Pusser’s, Rhum Clément, Rhum J.M., Ron Abuelo, Ron Barceló, Ron Brugal, Ron Centenario, Ron del Barrilito, Ron Diplomatico, Rum Fire, Rum-Bar, Saint Benevolence, Smith & Cross, Santa Teresa, The Scarlet Ibis, Tanduay, and Worthy Park

Author and Latitude 29 owner Jeff "Beachbum" Berry treats guests to a presentation packed with information (and rum cocktails): "Brigands, Barons & Beachcombers - The Many Faces of Planter’s Punch"
Author and Latitude 29 owner Jeff “Beachbum” Berry treats guests to a presentation packed with information (and rum cocktails): “Brigands, Barons & Beachcombers – The Many Faces of Planter’s Punch.”

In addition to the wonderful Foursquare “Exceptional Cask” rums, I was intrigued and excited to get my first taste of outstanding spirits from Plantation (including the elusive Xaymaca), Jamaica’s Monymusk (coming soon to the U.S. market), Hamilton (the rebranded West Indies blend), Venezuela’s Ron Diplomatico (look for the new Distillery Collection), Saint Benevolence (a Caribbean blend that directs all profits to the needy island of Haiti), and Martinique’s Rhum J.M. (the 1996 vintage was perhaps the best rhum agricole I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting).

I caught several informative seminars, capped off by the South Florida return of author and Latitude 29 barkeep Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, regaling us with “Brigands, Barons & Beachcombers – The Many Faces of Planter’s Punch.” Meanwhile, importer and Ministry of Rum founder Ed Hamilton followed up his first-ever rum tasting at The Mai-Kai on Thursday with a no-holds-barred look at changes in the rum market over the past 25 years. We’ll be posting expanded coverage of both of these talks soon.

Continue reading “Photos: VIPs, connoisseurs of fine spirits flock to first Miami Rum Congress”

The Week in Tiki (Feb. 1-15, 2016): Aloha to 5 new Tiki bars across the U.S., Shag at Modernism Week, Plantation Pineapple rum, plus more!

Host Shag enjoys a cocktail during the poolside Modernism Week party held Feb. 12 at the Caliente Tropics Resort Hotel. (Photo by Kari Hendler from Poly Hai)

The Week in Tiki Catching up on news from the first half of February, we have reports on the debut of Tiki-themed bars in Texas, Maine, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Miami Beach, plus a recap and photos from two of Shag’s parties at Modernism Week in Palm Springs. Quick sips include The Wreck Bar, the Polynesian Village Resort, the Rapa Nui Reef, and Tiki Month on the Pegu Blog. Regular features spotlight California artist Michelle Bickford; Milwaukee surf band The Exotics; New York City craft cocktail bars The Happiest Hour and Slowly Shirley; and Tiki mug collecting website Ooga-Mooga. The Rum of the Week, Plantation Pineapple Stiggins’ Fancy, is featured in an original Atomic Grog cocktail, Kilauea Iki.
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* Weekly features: Artist | Band/music | Bar | Website | Rum | Cocktail | Events

New Tiki bars open in Texas, Maine, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Miami Beach

It was a banner year for Tiki in 2015 with an unprecedented number of high-profile bars opening across the country. [Year in Tiki recap] It’s too early to know if 2016 will come close to the quality level of new establishments such as Lost Lake, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and The Golden Tiki , but the number of openings could easily top last year. [Previous: See our 2016 preview] And the variety is astounding, from a classic rum den in frigid Maine to the world’s first vegan Tiki bar in Seattle. Already open as of mid-February:

Howie’s Tiki in Spring, Texas. (Facebook photo)
Howie’s Tiki in Spring, Texas. (Facebook photo)

Howie’s Tiki in Spring, Texas: North of Houston, owner Mark “Howie” Voros is aiming for classic Tiki, including lamps from Oceanic Arts, exotic music, and a selection of classic tropical and modern cocktails, according to a Critiki News story. Artwork by California artist Ken Ruzic adorns the walls, with a Big Toe piece coming soon. Communal drinks include the Scorpion Bowl and Blood of the Kapu Tiki.
* Facebook page | Instagram | Critiki

Rhum in Portland, Maine

Rhum in Portland, Maine: A tribute to classic Tiki bars as well as the craft and romance of rum, this full-service restaurant has already made a splash in the heart of winter. “It’s about escapism,” co-owner Jason Loring, who owns several other Portland hotspots, told a Portland area blog. The food is an inventive, modern take on Polynesian-themed cuisine. The cocktails show off the bar’s massive rum collection, running the gamut from the Mai Tai to the Painkiller to the Fogcutter served in unique mugs made by a local artist. Another blogger raved: “It’s what Portland has been missing – a lounge full of escapism with an air of mystery.”
* Official site | Facebook page | Instagram | Critiki

Hidden Harbor's Tropic Thunder. (Facebook photo)
Hidden Harbor’s Tropic Thunder. (Facebook photo)

Hidden Harbor in Pittsburgh: This small “modern Tiki spot” opened Jan. 19 in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood under the guidance of co-owner and cocktail director Adam Henry. There’s a small menu of creative tapas (Deconstructed Tuna Tacos, Lamb Curry, etc.) and some unique takes on tropical cocktails. Ishmael includes clove-infused Jamaican rum, Tropic Thunder features a house five-rum blend, and Josie’s Faraway Vacation employs Arrack (Indonesian rum). You can also find drinks with sake, gin, rye and coconut-washed vodka. But purists shouldn’t fret: Every Tuesday is the Tiki Time Machine, featuring classics such as Don the Beachcomber’s Pearl Diver and Missionary’s Downfall. “It’s clear that the team at Hidden Harbor respects the classic tiki playbook,” according to the Pittsburgh City Paper. “But it isn’t afraid to add some notes in the margins.” The decor is described as minimalist by Tiki standards, with a few distinctive carvings and nautical knick-knacks.
* Official site | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

No Bones Beach Club in Seattle

No Bones Beach Club in Seattle: Easily the most distinctive of the new offerings is the world’s first vegan Tiki bar and restaurant. This former award-winning food truck and pop-up tent now serves Southern California-meets-Asian tropical treats in the city’s Ballard neighborhood. Highlights of the 100 percent plant-based menu include Sweet Pineapple and Soy Curl Sizzling Lettuce Wraps, tomatillo-avocado salsa-topped Jackfruit Flautas, and Smoked Golden Beet Poke, VegNews Magazine reports. Owner MacKenzie DeVito told Seattle Met’s Nosh Pit that the goal is to make guests in the sometimes dreary city “feel like they’re on a little vacation.” The drinks are made with local spirits and served in Tiki and tropical mugs. The decor includes a large Tiki, bamboo and thatch accents, plus colorful lanterns.
* Official site | Facebook | Twitter | Critiki

The Coconut Daiquiri from Naked Tiki. (Facebook photo)
The Coconut Daiquiri from Naked Tiki. (Facebook photo)

Naked Tiki in Miami Beach: The new restaurant/bar/lounge from celebrity chef Ralph Pagano (Hell’s Kitchen, Pressure Cook) held its soft opening on Feb. 11, with a grand opening Feb. 20. Located in the recently re-branded Stiles Hotel, a historic property in the heart of the Art Deco District on South Beach that dates back to 1936, Naked Tiki is a multi-level space that must blend in with the upscale property, so don’t expect over-the-top decor. But the food is outstanding, from the wings, ribs and bacon-wrapped shrimp rumaki to the handmade dumplings, decadent crab rangoon, inventive buns and signature Bang! Bang! Rice. Pagano obviously knows his way around a kitchen (watch him battle Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America). The cocktail menu is less ambitious but very solid, featuring a nice assortment of classics (Mai Tai, Scorpion, Painkiller, Singapore Sling, Aku Aku). “I have a borderline obsession with rum and tropical drinks,” Pagano told Miami New Times. “I’ve taken basically all that I love and put it under one roof.” The decor and music is more South Beach than South Pacific, but it makes sense in this neighborhood. It will be interesting to see how this space evolves.
* Official site | Facebook page

Continue reading “The Week in Tiki (Feb. 1-15, 2016): Aloha to 5 new Tiki bars across the U.S., Shag at Modernism Week, Plantation Pineapple rum, plus more!”