The Zombie Cocktail: 2 Recipes for the Famous Tiki Drink

Zombie Cocktail
There are a few ways to make a Zombie. All are potent, tropical, and may be too much fun. Rob Lawson / Photolibrary / Getty Images
  • 3 mins
  • Prep: 3 mins,
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1 serving
Ratings (13)

The Zombie is a popular tiki cocktail. It is filled with rum and fruits and is known to be one of the most powerful cocktails you can make. The only problem is that no one can agree how to make it!

The Zombie's History

The mystery of the boozy Zombie cocktail began in the first days of the tiki scene. This was a time when two of the leaders of these new tropical-themed bars were in fierce competition. It is no secret that Don the Beachcomber and Victor Bergeron (of Trader Vic's fame) kept their recipes tightly guarded, even encrypting their bar stock with top-secret codes.

It is believed that Don created the Zombie around 1934. Gary Regan notes in ​"The Joy of Mixology" that it was first served at the Hurricane Bar at ​the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

This secrecy may have been great for business at the time, but it poses a problem for modern bartenders who want to recreate the famous recipes. Imagine trying to pinpoint every fruit and the precise amount of rum poured into a cocktail that can have 9 ingredients or more!

That leaves us with many recipes for the same drink. In every case, it is complex and you best have a well-stocked bar if you want to take on any of them.

Here is what we do know about the Zombie cocktail:

  • Rum, and lots of it! The list always includes a light and dark rum, some add a third (typically 151-proof rum).
  • Fruit juice. Passion fruit seems to be the key to a great Zombie, but from there it could be orange, pineapple and/or papaya.

Two of the more popular recipes are below. Whichever you choose, it will be a great drink for a relaxing happy hour, tropical summer drink, or a haunting Halloween party cocktail. There is also a classic tiki cocktail called Zombie Punch, also attributed to Don.

Zombie Cocktail Recipe

This first recipe comes from Dale DeGroff's book, ​"The Craft of the Cocktail."

What You'll Need

How to Make It

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Shake well.
  3. Strain into a large glass with ice.
  4. Optionally, float the high-proof rum on top of the finished drink.
  5. Garnish with mint and fruit.

Gary (Gaz) Regan's Zombie No. 2 

Regan includes two Zombie recipes in The Joy of Mixology. This is the second and he notes that it was adapted from Jeff Berry's Beachbum Berry's Grog Log (2003).

To make this drink, pour the following into your cocktail shaker:

Shake the drink and top with a float of 1/2 ounce 151-proof rum. Garnish with a maraschino cherry, pineapple spear and mint sprig.

More Tips on the Zombie Cocktail

Those are only two of the Zombie recipes available. You can find more in Kaiser Penguin's Zombie Recipe Comparison, which includes some great commentary.

As you can see from these recipes, the Zombie can take on a completely different flavor depending on who is mixing it. The same can be seen in every tiki bar you visit.

Glassware and Ice. The glassware and ice are yet another point of contention with the Zombie. Some recipes clearly indicate crushed ice while others simply say 'ice-filled glass' and others mention no ice. Personally, I think ice is necessary and would never skip it.

The Zombie is always served in a tall glass. There is a specific glass called the 'zombie glass' and this is nothing more than a 12-ounce version of the average highball or collins glasses.

Some bartenders like to serve it in a hurricane glass because it has a more tropical look.

How Strong is the Zombie Cocktail?

The Zombie is a rum-filled, notoriously boozy drink, but how strong is it? The Zombie recipe you choose is going to make a world of difference!

Let's just assume that the primary rums are all 80-proof, the curacao and applejack are 60-proof, and we include the 151 rum float.

In this instance, these two recipes would add up to:

  • DeGroff's Zombie: 18% ABV (36 proof)
  • Regan's Zombie No. 2: 25% ABV (50 proof)

The difference is significant because Regan's recipe uses a full 4 ounces of the first three rums along with the applejack. DeGroff's recipe uses just 3 1/2 ounces of liquor total.