Serious Eats: Recipes

Zombie Punch

[Photograph: Jessica Leibowitz]

Perhaps the only thing more frightening than the idea of zombies roaming the city in search of fresh brains is the concoction you'll find in front of you when you say "Zombie" in your average bar.

Once the pinnacle drink of the mid-century Polynesian phenomenon, the Zombie has been mangled beyond recognition in the decades since its 1930s debut. This is primarily the fault of the drink's creator, Donn Beach, who had such success with the Zombie at his Don the Beachcomber bar that he jealously guarded the recipe from rivals, using unmarked bottles behind the bar and compiling some ingredients beforehand so that even staff members wouldn't know what was in them.

At Don the Beachcomber, you could get an authentic Zombie, a powerful yet balanced amalgam of rum, juice and sweeteners. At other bars, eager to capitalize on the Zombie's popularity, bartenders would throw whatever ingredients they had on hand together, creating drinks that were powerful, no doubt, but typically far from the quality of the original that launched a thousand tiki mugs.

And this is the way it remained, until a few years ago when dedicated drink anthropologist Jeff "Beachbum" Berry managed to acquire a private recipe book from 1937 once owned by Dick Santiago, who worked at Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s. As Berry details in Sippin' Safari, one of the recipes inside was for the Zombie Punch—the way the drink was listed for its 1934 debut.

While it still has enough rum in it to pickle the undead, this Zombie is less likely to cause much of a fright at your Halloween party.

This recipe will make more cinnamon syrup than you need for this drink. You can store it in the refrigerator for a few weeks.

Adapted from Beachbum Berry's Sippin' Safari.

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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