Halloween is here, so break out the ghost costumes and spiderwebs. And while you’re at it, fix up a drink that matches the spooky aura of the season. But not just any drink will do, as Halloween calls for something equal parts chilling, festive, and a little over the top—much like the holiday itself.
Enter the Zombie, a tiki classic (no, not that kind of zombie). This rum-based drink was born in 1934, in the tender post-Prohibition years. Cocktail guru Donn Beach is credited for having invented the drink, which gained a big following at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. Like so many classic drinks, there’s great folklore involved. Apparently, the drink was whipped up to cure the hangover of a local businessman who needed to get through a meeting. He returned later saying the drink had turned him into a zombie.
It’s not an impossible story, given the high-octane nature of the cocktail. It’s deceptive, with tropical goodness masking a decidedly alcoholic beverage. Many tiki bars place a cap on how many Zombies you can order in one sitting because they have a tendency to turn patrons into, well, the walking dead. Because they are so high-proof, they’re often served aflame, a great trick to add to your Halloween festivities.
It’s one thing to throw some dry ice in a drink or dye it red to make it look like blood. It’s quite another to make a cocktail that you and your friends won’t soon forget. So, we reached out to our friends at Death & Co. for insights on the ultimate Halloween drink. And they delivered.
Javelle Taft is the head bartender at Death Co.’s NYC outpost. He loves sherry, getting a good bike ride in, and is known for making some seriously good cocktails. “The backbone of a Zombie is built on the rum split,” he says. “Traditionally it’s made with a white or un-aged rum from Puerto Rico or Cuba, Jamaican rum, and Guyanese demerara-style rum. Each rum plays a significant part in the quality of the cocktail, so choose wisely. The remaining ingredients—Don’s Mix, Falernum, Grenadine, lime juice, and bitters—that work in harmony don’t waiver much.”
So about that rum. “For white rum I like Probitas,” he says. “It’s a blend of rums from two powerhouse Caribbean rum operators, Foursquare in Barbados and Hampden Estate in Jamaica. That’s the x-factor for me. Lemon Hart 151 demerara-style rum is my pick for its savory, full-body characteristic and Smith & Cross Jamaican rum for its ripe banana and cocoa notes.”
As mentioned, there are many ways to Zombie, so play around and dress it up however you like (although we strongly suggest the recipe below). “The Zombie cocktail has been riffed on many times before,” Taft says. “So the main takeaway here: have fun with it!”
There are many versions of the Zombie but this one is hard to beat. It’s all about a lovely balance of rums, candied fruit flavors, and the refreshing nuttiness only Falernum can provide. The drink can be scaled up easily, whether you need a spare for your partner or a big punch batch for the whole group. And you can always tone it down a bit by halving the rum ratios, or even diluting the whole thing with a bit of soda water or extra ice.
- 1 ounce Plantation OFTD
- 1 ounce Cana Brava
- 1 ounce Smith and Cross
- 1 ounce Don’s Mix (cinnamon syrup and grapefruit juice)
- 3/4 ounce lime juice
- 1/2 ounce Falernum
- 1/4 ounce Grenadine
- 2 dashes Absinthe
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Combine all ingredients except Absinthe and Angostura bitters with ice and shake vigorously.
- Stain into a glass, preferably a skull.
- Garnish with mint, orchid, or pineapple and light it up if you feel like some flames.
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