The Zombie Cocktail

Deanna reminded me of my love of a good Zombie Cocktail the other day. I had not thought about them in years. I think that perhaps the number of Margaritas I have consumed in Acapulco over the past decades may have diminished my desire for a Zombie, but I appreciated being reminded of them.

My introduction to the drink took place at Ma Crosby’s restaurant in Ciudid Acuna which is located across the Rio Grande from the Texas city of Del Rio. The first time I dined there it was 1953 and I was but twelve. We were on our way to the Big Bend National Park, and I certainly wasn’t allowed to try one then. Later, as a college student in the early ‘60s, my oldest sister Jeanette, my mother and I traveled with my uncle and aunt to see our first bull fight in Del Rio. How that ever came about I cannot recall. Besides discovering why sunny seats are cheaper at a bull fight, we dined at Ma Crosby’s afterwards, and there my sister introduced us to Zombies. It was a good thing we had decided to spend the night in Del Rio.

I have returned many times Ma Crosby’s over the decades, not just for the Zombies, but because the food is excellent. The spotless checkerboard floor and skylights in its center dining room are the first clues that this place is different. My favorite dish has always been the shrimp. No bull fights are being held along the border anymore, but we stop there whenever we head west—which means we are on our way to the Big Bend National Park. I took Case Fischer there when he completed his first summer of work at das Peach Haus.

The Zombie, is not a dance, is not a state of mind although it can get you there, and it is not a death-defying monster in a horror flick. It is, by definition, a cocktail made of fruit juices and various rums. It made its first appearance when Donn Beach, perhaps even a Texian by birth, and a California beachcomber named Ernest Gantt and “founding father” of Tiki Culture, introduced the drink at his Hollywood restaurant in 1934. (He also introduced the first Pu Pu Platter.) Five years later the Zombie became popular along the eastern states. The story according to Mr. Beach is that he made this drink to help a hungover customer who came back the next day to say it made him feel like a zombie. Beach began serving the drink claiming it could make one feel “like the walking dead.”

Beach kept his recipe in code since he had noticed that the drinks being called Zombies elsewhere varied, and some were taking credit there for its invention. The one introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair was obviously not made from his recipe. There are many variations. Trader Vic listed a recipe for the Zombie in his 1947 Bartender’s Guide and it has remained a part of America’s drink cuisine ever since.

A Zombie is served in a particular style glass. Like a Tom Collins glass, it is traditionally straight sided and narrow. These glasses were designed for larger drinks and typically hold 10 ounces. The size is the reason why no restaurant supposedly will allow one to consume more than two, which apparently is the equivalent to consuming 7 regular cocktails. Be sure and try this, but take care not to go overboard!

The following recipe was found in a notebook belonging to one of the original bartenders working at Don the Beachcombers.


¾ cup crushed ice
1 ½ oz aged Jamaican rum, such as Appleton Estate V/X or Extra
1 ½ oz Gold Puerto Rican rum
1 oz 151-proof Lemon Hart Demerara rum
¾ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tsp Cinnamon Syrup
1 tsp Grenadine
½ oz Falernum, is a clove- and lime-infused liqueur such as John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum.
1/8 tsp Pernod
1 dash aromatic bitters, such as Angostura
Ice cubes
1 mint spring, for garnish


Place all ingredients except ice cubes and mint in a blender.
Blend on high until frothy, but not slushy, no more than 5 seconds.
Pour into a tall, narrow glass and ice cubes to fill the glass.
Garnish with a mint sprig.

A simpler version and, likely, less expensive is the following: 


1 ½ oz dark rum
1 ½ oz of white rum
¾ oz apricot brandy
3 oz measures pineapple juice
¾ oz measure lime juice
2 tsp powdered sugar
¾ cup crushed ice.
Garnish: cocktail cherry and pineapple wedge.


Add all the ingredients into a cocktail mixer with ice and shake.
Pour into a tall glass.
Spear pineapple and cherry and place on edge of the glass.

By: Mark Wieser

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