Tiki Classic: The Zombie

The zombie is a quintessential Tiki classic. It’s the most identifiable Tiki cocktail aside from the universally popular Mai Tai, but it’s underappreciated and often butchered since it’s a complex drink that easy to mess up.

I prefer the adapted recipe from Martin Cate’s book Smugglers cove – it requires an extensive ingredient list including three syrups, two fruit juices, and three(!) different rums.

If you’re ordering this drink anywhere that doesn’t specialize in Tiki, you’re rolling the dice. More often than not, you will be disappointed. Luckily, you can just make it in the comfort of your own home – it’s worth the effort.

Photos by ADV Photography

Donn Beach, one of the fathers of Tiki, invented this drink at Don the Beachcomber in 1934. The popular story is that a hungover businessman asked Donn to make him something to get him through a meeting, and Donn quickly mixed something up. The businessman drank it and told Donn that it made him feel like a zombie and the rest is history.

You’ll notice that this drink is heavy on the rum. Tiki cocktails generally carry a kick and the Zombie is no exception. This drink is so deceptively strong that Don the Beachcomber would limit his patrons to maximum of 2 for their own safety.

Donn was a master marketer and I think he realized this would only make the drink more appealing. Don’t be intimidated by the fact is mostly rum – it’s delicious.

The original Don the Beachcomber Menu


(Some ingredients are explained further below)

1 ½ oz blended aged rum
1 ½ oz column still aged rum
1 oz black blended overproof rum
½ oz falernum (preferably John D. Taylor’s)
¾ oz lime juice
¼ oz grapefruit juice
¼ oz cinnamon syrup
1 tsp Grenadine
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Herbsaint (or Absinthe)
12 oz crushed ice

Combine all ingredients in a mixing tin, add 6 oz of crushed ice and 2 bigger “agitator” cubes. Quickly shake and strain with an open gate (don’t push down on the coil of your strainer so as to allow the crushed ice to get in) into your favorite Tiki mug or zombie glass. Use a gated finish to ensure the entire drink fits in the mug. Garnish with… whatever you feel like!

Tiki cocktails run counter to much of the recent cocktail revolution. They’re fun, they have no rules, and although the drinks are seriously delicious, they don’t take themselves too seriously. I poured my Zombie into one of my favourite Tiki mugs – the Dreadful Ape by Horror in Clay. A real showstopper.

I chose to garnish with some mint, a lime wheel, dehydrated grapefruit, and a Maraschino cherry. Again, there are no wrong combinations, have fun with whatever you have on hand!

Now, I know this recipe seems daunting, so let’s break down the individual ingredients:


Feel free to use a blend of your favourite rums – the beauty of rum is the variation and infinite combinations possible. I’m a rum addict (could you guess?), so I probably have over 30 different kinds in my bar, but you don’t need more than a few bottles to cover your bases. Personally, I use Apple Estate Rare Blend 12 as my blended aged rum, Havana Club as my column still aged rum, and Lemon Hart & Son as my overproof.

Rum can be intimidating, but feel free to experiment with whatever you have on hand – there are really are no wrong answers.

Look out for our upcoming deep dive into rum where we will explain everything you need to know about the most varied spirit in the world.


I use John D. Taylor’s Falernum in my recipe, but any falernum you can get your hands on will work. Fee Brothers and BG Reynolds are both great products.

Alternatively, you can make a very tasty homemade falernum with a little effort. There are many recipes, but I recommend Googling “Falernum #9”.

I prefer to keep John D. Taylor’s at home since it has an alcohol base which keeps it from spoiling. My experience is that homemade or commercial falernum has a shelf life of about 3 weeks if kept in the refrigerator.


Cinnamon Syrup

You could buy it (BG Reynolds make a fine product) but it’s quite easy to make.

2 cups water
3 (6 inch) cinnamon sticks, halved
4 cups granulated sugar

Add the water and cinnamon sticks to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, then cover and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours. Strain through cheesecloth into a bowl, then funnel into a lidded bottle or other sealable container. Refrigerated syrup will keep for several weeks.


Please don’t buy the common commercial product you find in the grocery store! If you don’t want to make it at home, opt for the specialty producers like Small Hand Foods, but if you do, here’s the recipe.

2 cups POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
2 cups granulated sugar

Bring the juice to a boil over high heat. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Funnel into a lidded bottle or other sealable container. Refrigerated syrup will keep for several weeks.

If this all seems like a lot of work for one drink, you’re right!

But the good news is that you’re now set up to make Zombies all week. As a bonus, you have a base for creating dozens on other Tiki cocktails!

It’s quite clear I’ve made my way deep down the Tiki rabbit hole. But it’s great down here – come join me!

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