Remixed Recipes: The Zombies of Donn Beach

When this time of year rolls around there is always one drink that is on people’s mind. The Zombie is the drink of Halloween. Sadly it’s a drink that most people still don’t know how to make. Thanks to Jeff Berry of course way more people do. In the nicer bars you might even be able to get one especially if they do Tiki. Sadly ask your average bulk order bar jockey for a zombie and your still likely to get a big glass of random rums and bottled juice. This is a damn damn shame.


Here’s the skinny and what everyone should know. The Zombie was created by Donn Beach, and is at it’s most basic form a really kicked up Tiki planters punch. And when it comes to cocktails in the Post prohibition era it’s the drink that launched thousands of bars. Donn Beach’s masterpiece made the papers all across the country. Soon anyone who would imitate him was trying to copy his drink to capitalize on it’s popularity. Sadly because his drinks were all secret recipes they often simply made up there own to sometimes disastrous results. This is why so many different recipes are out there. Only a few of Donn’s top men knew the real secret and parts of it were even in code. We owe cocktail historian Jeff Berry for recovering this and many other Tiki Cocktails. The story about how this cocktail was rediscovered was detailed at great length in Chapter 6 of Sippin Safari and it’s an amazing read.


Yet this tall drink of undeath still has mystery to it. Donn Beach was a constant tinkerer, he always enjoyed fiddling and changing his recipes. And likely had more than a few versions of this famous drink. His widow Phoebe penned a book that said the Zombie was a drink for the afternoon, and it’s easy to see why. Every Donn Beach Zombie recipe has a refreshing sour element that makes any afternoon heavenly. Today join me as four such denizens rise from their grave.

Zombie Punch (1934)

¾ oz Lime Juice
½ oz Don’s Mix (2 part white grapefruit, 1 part Cinnamon syrup)
½ Falernum
1 ½ oz Cruzan White
1 ½ oz Cruzan Gold
1 oz Lemon Hart 151
Dash Angostura
1/8 tsp (6 drops) Absinthe
1 tsp Grenadine
¾ cup Crushed Ice

Blend for no more than 5 seconds and pour into a chimney glass. Add ice cubes to fill and garnish with a mint sprig.

There’s a reason that 78 years later this drink is still appearing on bar menus. When people say it’s deep and complex that’s only because there aren’t words more worthy to describe them. Notes of sweet ginger and grenadine play up front all rounded out by please cleansing citrus. The rums fill out the body as well being varied spicy, burnt molasses notes to the party. Lemon Hart 151 is a crucial ingredient as it makes the drink’s otherworldly finish with notes of citrus helping to cleanse and cool. Don’t neglect the tiny drops of absinthe, they lace through the drink like threads connecting fabrics.



A Curious twist came in 1950 when Louis Spievak published a book with a recipe for Donn’s zombie. One completely different from his original in many ways. So much so it’s almost hard to say it’s really from Donn. But the drink is divine and complex, with similarities to the first drink in flavor. I do agree with the theory that perhaps this was an invention of Donn for his home reader to throw his competition a red herring. It’s just so different from his normal formulas?

Spievak Zombie (1950)

1 oz Fresh Lime
1 oz Fresh Lemon
1 oz Fresh Pineapple
1 oz Passion Fruit Syrup
1 oz Cruzan White
1 oz Cruzan Gold
1 oz Lemon Hart 151

1 tsp Demerera Syrup
1 Dash Angostura

Shake well with lots of crushed Ice and pour unstrained into a chimney glass adding ice cubes to fill. Garnish with a mint sprig.

In this I find myself really met first by the Lemon and Passion Fruit. It has a very interesting sour twang, more sour than the 34 even. The pineapple really adds froth and a lovely sweet notes though they are a bit muted. And the demerera syrup seems to add to the nose and really enhance the trio of rums. Lemon Hart once again proves to be an essential part of this concoction and is truly ,as you will see in all Donn Beach zombies, irreplaceable. I like this recipe because it’s tasty and easy to shake and learn. It does make me really realize why Donn didn’t really use much lemon in his recipes though as it’s quite sour.



The third zombie in our horde is from 6 years later and it seems to be much closer to the 34. Most interestingly however it has elements from the Spievak in the pineapple juice. As well as a wholly unique ingredient in the Maraschino liqueur. This recipe was in Cabaret magazine which makes one wonder if it was still his definitive zombie, or a tweaked one to keep the dogs of his heels. Well either way It’s another tasty treat

Zombie (1956)


¾ Lime

½ Grapefruit

1 ½ Pineapple

¼ oz Falernum

1 ¼ oz Cruzan Gold

1 oz Dark Jamaican rum

1 oz Lemon Hart

¾ oz Maraschino Liqueur

¼ tsp Grenadine

2 dashes Angostura

1/8 tsp (6 drops) Absinthe

1 handful of crushed ice


Blend for no more than 5 seconds and pour into a chimney glass. Add ice cubes to fill and garnish with a mint sprig.

This version is in my opinion the prettiest and perhaps the most fragrant. It has a very rich frothy head from all the pineapple and you can get wonderful wafts from the maraschino, pomegranate, pineapple, and angostura. Maraschino plays a very big part of this drink as I find it often on my palate. Still I taste a good bit of the gold rum, the Lemon Hart, and the pineapple. I agree with the bum the rums come through quite well on this one. I do find myself wanting to play with and tweak this recipe. Perhaps lowering the maraschino a bit and seeing what that brings out.



The final version is from the Vegas tiki bar Donn Beach helped open. The Aku Aku version is perfect to end on here because it really brings us all back to where things began. The Aku Aku version is very very much indeed like the Zombie Punch, but it is streamlined and modernized. That doesn’t mean however it is not delicious.

Zombie (1964)


¾ Fresh Lime

¾ White Grapefruit

¾ Cinnamon Syrup

¾ Dark Jamaican Rum

¾ Cruzan Gold

¾ Lemon Hart 151

Dash Angostura bitters

½ tsp Zombie Mix (If making a single drink. 1/8 tsp each Orange Curacao, Falernum, and Grenadine)

4 oz crushed ice


Blend for no more than 5 seconds and pour into a chimney glass. Add ice cubes to fill and garnish with a mint sprig.

This version noticeably sweeter than the others, but not too sweet by any stretch. I used Senior Curacao of Curacao which probably is what makes the orange flavor so rich even though it’s so minor. This version really lets the cinnamon stand out and puts the grapefruit to work as well. It has an amazingly rich fragrance and is quite wonderful. The body of the drink is full on spicy burnt sugar rum flavors and the Lemon Hart remains a huge part of this drink. I was a big fan of this one, sadly I don’t think many people make it.



Without the Zombie the Tiki Revolution probably never would have gotten into the full swing it did. Much less still be swinging today. So we’ll raise a Zombie to a toast and from the Dark Isles wish you all a HAPPY HALLOWEEEN!

“And you Get Hammered America”- JFL

About JFL

Joey or JFL as he is known by friends is a culinary trained mixologist from the Heart of Dixie Birmingham, Alabama. From a weekly column in the St. Clair News Aegis to his own experiments online JFL never stops doing work on Tiki and Cocktails. When he's not studying all things spirit, wine, and beer he's pursuing his own odd interests such as cartoons, cheesy old horror movies, horror punk, hair metal, and hockey
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1 Response to Remixed Recipes: The Zombies of Donn Beach

  1. Damien says:

    I like checking out site like yourself for various plays on the classic Zombie. To be honest, Lemon Hart 151 is not something readily available in the UK, but by the sounds of it, we really should start importing it. Here`s how we put our Zombie together

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