The Zombie cocktail

A perfect drink for Halloween

Your cocktail calendar entry for: October
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Today is Halloween so we’re all about the Zombie cocktail as Drink of the Day.  Today we advise starting early:  kids trick or treating are pretty impatient and you won’t be able to keep mixing drink treats as quickly as they roll by.  You can simply spend the afternoon preparing a large batch and storing in the freezer.  You’ll be ready as the gremlins come out.

What could be better on Halloween than the Zombie?  Tiki fans should be delighted, but we can all reflect upon films such as Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead or The Last Man on Earth.  A good visit to the streaming service of your choice should get you a selection to set the zombie mood.

If you prefer something a bit quicker to prepare we would also suggest the Widow’s Kiss as an appropriate Halloween cocktail.  And, of course, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is perfect in the aftermath of Halloween.

The History

Rather than get deeply into the cinematic zombie genre we’ll focus on the Zombie cocktail itself.  The original Zombie was conceived by Donn Beach (previously known as Ernest Gantt) who was the founding father of Tiki culture.  He opened Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood shortly after Prohibition ended.  Endlessly imitated, this spot was the genesis of the Tiki craze of the late 1940s and 50s.  Today, unfortunately, it is a soulless apartment complex.  Such shrines to good taste as “The Black Hole of Calcutta” and “The Cannibal Room” dining areas have been replaced by bedrooms.

We mentioned Donn Beach on National Mai Tai Day as he claimed to have invented that drink.  We rejected his Mai Tai claim as implausible, but in the case of the Zombie there is no real controversy.  It wasn’t his first cocktail, but likely the one most remembered.  We stick to the original here, though it has sometimes been twisted into nearly unrecognizable forms by misguided souls or perhaps the undead themselves.  He is also likely the originator of the infamous pu pu platter, a strange combination of vaguely Cantonese-like food then served at supposedly Polynesian places,  But let’s face it:  at that time anything west of Catalina Island was viewed as the “exotic Orient.”

The legend is that Donn originally created the Zombie to help a hungover customer get through a business meeting.  It was apparently a bit too much of a good thing and the customer returned to report that he had been turned into a zombie.  And from there the race was off.

Finding the original recipe, however, was not so simple.  Donn was notoriously secretive, and recipes for the bartenders contained coded references to ingredients for which only he knew the contents.  These ingredients were simply in numbered bottles at the bar, and the bartenders had little idea what was inside.  He was being copied widely, so his secrecy was not unfounded.  A man named Monte Proser created a copy and tried to pass it off as his own at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

The Zombie recipe

While Donn created the Zombie in 1934 it was not really until the consummate Tiki historian Jerry “Beachbum” Berry sorted it out and described it in his book Beachbum Berry’s Sippin’ Safari that the original recipe became clear.  He had been working on it since 1994.  In 2005 a woman appeared with a drink recipe notebook that her Don the Beachcomber bartender father had kept in his shirt pocket.  But there was one remaining problem:  the recipe called for a half ounce of “Don’s Mix” which a separate entry described as two parts grapefruit juice to one part “Spices #4.”

Undaunted, Berry continued in his quest and writes:

“Bowed but not broken, the Bum asked Mike Buhen of the venerable Tiki-Ti bar if he’d ever heard of Spices #4. Since Mike’s dad Ray was one of the original Beachcomber’s bartenders in 1934, if anyone knew, Mike would. Ray would go to the Astra Company out in Inglewood to pick up #2 and #4,’ Mike told the Bum. A chemist would open a safe, take out the ingredients, and twirl some knobs in a big mixing machine, filling up a case while Ray waited. Then they’d close up the secret stuff in the safe. Ray took the bottles — marked only #2 and #4 — back to Don The Beachcomber’s. All well and good, but what did #4 taste like? ‘I have no idea,’ Mike shrugged. ‘Astra was owned by a guy named John Lancaster, who died of cancer in the ‘60s. The company’s long-gone.’

And so the original Zombie Punch recipe sat, Sphinx-like, the solution to its riddle so close we could almost, well, taste it. Months went by. A year went by. And then the Bum made the acquaintance of a veteran Tiki bartender named Bob Esmino. Did he know what #4 was? ‘Oh, sure, from John’s old company,’ chuckled Bob, who hadn’t thought about the stuff in 40 years. ‘It was a cinnamon syrup.’”

Once the reader has found some cinnamon, it is merely a matter of crushing a couple of those cinnamon sticks and tossing them in a small pan with one cup sugar and one cup water.  Simmer for 10 minutes, remove from heat and allow to steep for an hour or two.  Strain to remove solids.  Adding that syrup to twice its volume of grapefruit juice will yield about 36 ounces of Don’s Mix.  At one half ounce per serving you are good for about 72 trick or treaters, but you could stretch it out in a pinch if for any reason you think the kids under 6 have already been drinking and should get a serving containing less than 4 ounces of rum.

Zombie cocktail


Donn Beach claimed to have invented the Mai Tai, but we rejected that claim as implausible given known facts. In the case of the Zombie there is no real controversy.  Don invented it not as his first cocktail, but likely the one most remembered even if it has over the years been sometimes twisted into nearly unrecognizable forms by misguided souls or the undead themselves for all we know.  He is also likely the originator of the infamous pu pu platter, a strange combination of vaguely Cantonese-like food then served at supposedly Polynesian places, but let’s face it:  at that time anything west of Catalina Island was viewed as the “exotic Orient.” 
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  • ¾ oz Fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz Falernum
  • oz Gold Puerto Rican Rum (but any gold rum is fine)
  • 1 oz Demerara rum (your correspondent recommends extinguishing any open flames in the vicinity)
  • 2 tsp Grenadine
  • 6 drops Pernod (the absinthe on kitchen counter should be fine if you’re out of Pernod)
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters
  • ½ oz Don's Mix Don's mix is a 2:1 mixture of grapefruit juice and cinnamon-infused simple syrup.


  • Add mix to blender with ¾ cup of crushed ice and blend for no more than 5 seconds.
  • Pour into a tall Collins or highball glass
  • Drink
  • Note that Donn himself would serve no more than two to a customer.  For our readers, of course, eight ounces of rum is an average breakfast tot, so that limit does not apply.
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