Few cocktails are as storied as Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie. Originally created in 1934, the precise makeup of the 10-ingredient cocktail was a mystery for more than half a century. What we did know is that customers who visited any Beachcomber outpost were limited to two per sitting, a mandate that intentionally added to the allure of the drink.
It was Jeff “Beachbum” Berry who first decoded the Zombie recipe in 2005, revealing the drink’s spirituous backbone, a potent blend of three rums: gold Puerto Rican rum, aged Jamaican rum and Lemon Hart 151-proof Demerara rum. Alongside this trio of hard-hitters, lime juice, Don’s Mix, Angostura bitters, falernum, absinthe and grenadine all made an appearance to create the complex, spiced profile that would become characteristic of Don the Beachcomber’s style. Many Zombie riffs—like Zac Overman’s pisco- and gin-forward White Zombie, Will Peet’s sherry-based The Mauser and Brian Miller’s modern-classic Winchester, to name a few—have rightfully leaned into the sheer number of ingredients, and the mastery required in blending them, as the defining feature of the drink. But the layered spirit of the Zombie can still persist in a more modest formula.
With its signature split base, the drink is a prime example of the Beachcomber’s famed philosophy: What one rum can’t do, three rums can. So central is this to the Zombie’s identity that even Berry’s pared-down version, which requires only five ingredients, calls on a split base of aged Jamaican rum and overproof Puerto Rican rum. “My bare-bones version does approximate its flavor profile, without sending you on a scavenger hunt for 151-proof Lemon Hart rum, falernum, a blender or crushed ice,” explains Berry in Easy Tiki.
It’s just one of several modern, minimalist takes on the layered original. In his Coy Decoy, Indianapolis-based bartender Chris Coy offers a contemporary spin built on a blend of gins in place of rum, applying the same Beachcomber mentality to his base spirit of choice. Coy deploys the cucumber-forward Uncle Val’s gin alongside a more traditional London dry style, for complexity beyond what a single bottle could achieve. Combined with grapefruit liqueur, pineapple and lime juices and a few dashes of Bittermens Boston Bittahs, it’s a decidedly modern Zombie with all the intrigue of its predecessor.