What better way to welcome Halloween than with the Zombie cocktail? It’s a potent, flavorful concoction that really packs a punch with its complex blend of rum, fruit juices, and spices– the perfect citrus-forward tiki cocktail.
Just don’t have more than one, or you’ll find out why it’s named “Zombie!”
Today, we’ll go over the history of this famous tiki drink, explore the essential ingredients, guide you through the steps to craft this ultimate Halloween party cocktail, and even provide variations. So come with us… If you dare!
History of the Zombie Cocktail
The famous tiki bartender and drink creator, Donn Beach– AKA “Don the Beachcomber”– created the Zombie somewhere around the early 1930s. He crafted this fun rum cocktail as a secret blend that became immensely popular during the tiki craze of the 1930s and 1940s.
Supposedly named after its rumored ability to “revive the dead” due to its high alcohol content, this famous tiki cocktail continues to be a staple in tiki bars and an iconic representation of this genre of cocktails.
In fact, I just visited Milwaukee’s famed tiki bar, Foundation, and can attest that they make a killer Zombie. (No pun intended, I swear.) And there’s even a bar called Zombie Village in San Francisco, inspired by this iconic drink.
And of course, it’s a great option this time of year because of its spooky name, which is obviously why we’ve chosen it as an October cocktail.
The original recipe was kept a secret by Beach, but a modern version based on three traditional recipes was published by modern day tiki icon Jeff “Beachbum” Berry in his book Sippin’ Safari, reviving this “deadly” mixed drink’s popularity. Our recipe today is based on Beachbum Berry’s well-known version.
Zombie Cocktail Ingredients
This one is a doozy! Featuring three types of rum, this classic tiki cocktail is a super boozy drink. To summon the flavors of this dangerous mixed drink, you’ll need the following:
- Puerto Rican Rum/Aged or Golden Rum: The backbone of the Zombie, white rum provides a smooth and light base for the cocktail. Choose a quality rum to elevate the overall taste.
- Jamaican Rum/Dark Rum: This rich and full-bodied dark rum adds depth and complexity to the drink with a molasses-like quality. You can even look for aged or spiced varieties for an extra layer of flavor.
- 151 Rum/Overproof Rum: This white rum is strong at 75% ABV! The most commonly known version, Bacardi 151, was discontinued in 2016 by Bacardi Rum, but there are other brands to choose from. We’re actually cheating today and using Wray & Nephew overproof rum, which is “only” 63% ABV.
- Fresh Lime Juice: Freshly-squeezed lime juice brings a tangy citrus note that balances the sweetness of the other ingredients and the strength of all that alcohol.
- Fresh Grapefruit Juice: Bringing additional acidity and tartness, grapefruit juice helps balance the sweetness of the syrups and plays well with cinnamon and apricot flavors. Traditionally, pineapple juice is used instead, which makes the drink much sweeter.
- Grenadine: A sweet-tart pomegranate syrup, grenadine adds a vibrant red hue and a touch of fruity sweetness to the cocktail. You can use store-bought or make your own if you’re up for it.
- Felarnum: This apricot liqueur imparts a distinctive fruity flavor, adding depth and complexity.
- Angostura Bitters: A few dashes of Angostura bitters contribute aromatic notes and help to balance the overall sweetness of the drink.
- Pernod or Absinthe (optional): For those seeking an extra touch of complexity and herbal flavors, a dash or spritz of this anise-flavored liqueur can be added. We’re using absinthe today.
- Cinnamon Syrup: Our version brings a spiced element, which is perfect for the fall season.
- Crushed Ice & Mint: In traditional tiki fashion, garnish with mint leaves and crushed ice for the full effect.
How to Make a Zombie Cocktail
In today’s video, you’ll hear more about tiki drink culture, its history, and its techniques. There are a lot of craft elements in tiki cocktails, including split bases and DIY elements. In fact, many consider tiki to be the precursor to the modern-day craft cocktail movement.
With that in mind, like most tropical cocktails, this one requires a little prep time. Watch the video below to to see Chris bring the Zombie cocktail to life. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
And make sure to stick around after the recipe to see Chris use one of his nerdy mixology toys to smoke his Zombie, adding a whole new level of fun to this drink– perfect for Halloween.
Zombie Drink Variations
While the classic cocktail sure is a killer, here are a few alternate versions to wake up your brain (OK, OK, I’ll stop):
- Spiced Zombie: Add a pinch of ground cinnamon or nutmeg, or used spiced rum in your Zombie recipe to enhance the complexity and take the drink in a different direction. We’re using cinnamon-flavored simple syrup in today’s recipe, but you can push these flavors even further if you’d like.
- Pineapple Juice: Unsweetened pineapple juice is a really common ingredient for this cocktail hour drink, but we’ve switched that out with grapefruit juice. The pineapple brings out a bit more tropical fruit flavor, but try both and let us know what you think!
- Custom Fruit Syrup: Along the lines of using a cinnamon syrup, experiment with different fruit syrups such as passion fruit or mango to infuse unique, tropical flavors into your Zombie cocktail.
- Zombie Punch: Transform the Zombie into a party-ready drink by scaling up the ingredients into a batched cocktail. Add a decorative ice block, elaborate garnish, or surrounding fog machine to really impress your guests.
- Smoked Zombie: As Chris shows you in the video, you can add smoke to your drink, creating a richness that takes this tropical cocktail in a different direction.
Revive the Tiki “Spirit”
The continuing popularity of the Zombie cocktail isn’t really a surprise given the revived fervor for the tiki movement. We hope your Halloween and fall season is even more amazing with our take on the original recipe below– and definitely let us know in the comments what you think. Cheers!
Zombie Cocktail Recipe
- 1.5 ounce Jamaican Rum Dark Rum
- 1.5 ounce Puerto Rican Rum Golden Rum
- 1 ounce Overproof Rum Wray & Nephew, or 151-Proof Rum
- 0.75 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
- 0.5 ounce Fresh Grapefruit Juice
- 0.25 ounce Grenadine
- 0.5 ounce Felarnum
- 0.25 ounce Absinthe
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- 0.5 ounce Cinnamon Simple Syrup
- 1 bunch Fresh Mint Garnish
- Combine all ingredients into your cocktail shaker with ice cubes, and shake for 15-20 seconds.
- Double strain into a tiki or Hurricane glass filled with crushed ice (or highball glass if you don't have the others).
- Garnish with fresh mint sprigs.