The zombie is a popular tiki cocktail that was most likely created by Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s. It is filled with a tasty blend of rum and fruit juices and is well known to be a pretty powerful cocktail, so much so that it's said the original restaurant where it was served limited each customer to two zombies maximum due to the potency of the drink.
There are plenty of recipes for this classic cocktail and no agreement on how to make it. The only consensus among mixologists is that the basis of the cocktail is rum, typically both light and dark rums, sometimes with a strong 151-proof rum float. For the fruits, passion fruit often appears in zombies, though the drink may include either orange, papaya, grapefruit, or pineapple, or a combination of two or more.
This recipe comes from Dale DeGroff's book "The Craft of the Cocktail," and it is one of the best versions. It's worth mixing up a few different zombies to see which you enjoy best. Whichever way you choose to go, a zombie is a great tropical summer drink and a perfect choice for a haunting Halloween party cocktail.
Watch Now: Popular Recipe for the Zombie Tiki Cocktail
- 1 ounce light rum
- 1 ounce dark rum
- 1 ounce orange curaçao liqueur
- 1 1/2 ounces orange juice
- 1 1/2 ounces passion fruit puree (or syrup)
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 1/4 ounce grenadine
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Optional: 1/2 ounce 151-proof dark rum
- Garnish: sprig mint
- Garnish: seasonal fruits
Gather the ingredients.
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. If using, save the 151 rum for a float.
Optionally, float the high-proof rum on top of the drink by slowly pouring it over the back of a bar spoon.
Garnish with mint and seasonal fruits.
Ice, Tall Glasses, and Bar Spoons
- The ice and glassware are yet another point of contention with the zombie. Some recipes clearly indicate crushed ice while others simply say "ice-filled glass" and others mention no ice. To marry the drink flavors, it is best to include some ice—whether you choose cubes or crushed is a personal preference.
- The zombie is always served in a tall glass. The "zombie glass" is a 12-ounce version of the average highball or collins glasses. Though, if you're looking for a more tropical look and feel, serve it in a hurricane glass.
- To float the rum, a bar spoon is preferred. It has a thinner bowl that can fit into most glasses, and the long handle helps with balance for a smoother pour. A regular spoon will work if that's all you have on hand.
- Try Gary (Gaz) Regan's Zombie No. 2 from "The Joy of Mixology," which he notes was adapted from Jeff Berry's "Beachbum Berry's Grog Log" (2003): Combine 1 ounce dark rum, 1 1/2 ounces each of añejo rum and light rum, 3/4 ounce each of applejack, papaya nectar, and pineapple juice, 1 ounce fresh lime juice, and 1/2 ounce simple syrup and shake with ice. Strain into a tall glass over fresh ice, then float 1/2 ounce of 151-proof rum on top. Garnish with a maraschino cherry, pineapple spear, and mint sprig.
- There is also a classic tiki cocktail called the zombie punch. It can be blended or shaken, uses grapefruit and lime juices, and adds cinnamon syrup, falernum, and an anise liqueur for extra flavor.
Who Created the Zombie Cocktail?
The story of the boozy zombie drinks began in the first days of America's tiki bar scene. It was a time of fierce competition between two leaders of these new tropical-themed bars. Both Don the Beachcomber and Victor Bergeron (of Trader Vic's fame) kept their recipes tightly guarded, even encrypting their bar stock with top-secret codes.
The array of fruit juices and other flavors place zombie cocktails in the classic definition of a punch (rather than the large-batch drinks served at parties). It is believed that Don created the zombie punch around 1934. Gary Regan notes in "The Joy of Mixology" that it was first served at the Hurricane Bar during the 1939 World's Fair in New York.
The tiki bar secrecy may have been great for business at the time, but it poses a problem for modern bartenders who want to recreate the famous recipes. Imagine trying to pinpoint every fruit and the precise amount of rum poured into a cocktail that can have nine ingredients or more. This explains why there are so many recipes for the same drink and accounts for the similarities between the zombie "cocktail" and the "punch." In every case, zombies are complex, and you need to have a well-stocked bar if you want to take on any of them.
How Strong Is the Zombie Cocktail?
The zombie is a rum-filled, notoriously boozy drink, but how strong is it? The recipe you choose is going to make a world of difference. For instance, DeGroff's zombie uses just 3 1/2 ounces of liquor, but if the two main rums are 80 proof, it mixes up to 18 percent ABV (36 proof). On the other hand, Regan's zombie uses 4 ounces of rum plus applejack, so it's a little heavier at 25 percent ABV (50 proof).