Tuesday, April 2, 2013


These are probably not the first words that come to mind when someone uses the word “zombie” these days. Most people probably begin to talk about their favorite scenes from John Romero or that TV show on AMC.

Find a good bartender though, and ask them about a Zombie. That twinkle you see in their eyes (or is that dread?) is a brain cycling through a list of ingredients a mile long, and a cocktail history that can match it.

Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt was born in Texas in 1907. It seems like an unlikely name and birthplace for the person largely held as being responsible for the Polynesian pop-culture phenomenon known as “Tiki” - but that’s probably why he eventually changed his name to Donn Beach better known as Don The Beachcomber.

Gantt travelled the world as something of a vagabond - visiting places in the South Pacific and the Caribbean specifically - before finding himself in Los Angeles in the early 1930’s. It was there that he took over a small shop and turned it into a bar: Don’s Beachcomber Cafe.

The future Don had very little money, but he had picked up a thing or two about rum punches while in Jamaica, and rum happened to be dirt cheap at the time. So combining his incredible charm, cheap but exotic rum, and the base of Jamaican Planter’s punch, he began building an empire drink by drink. Of his most famous creations, the Zombie may rule the roost.

In 1934 Don unleashed a mixture of four full ounces of rum including a full ounce of overproof rum - on the world. The drink was potent already - but, using his knack for flair, Don made it even more mysterious and alluring by declaring right on the menu that no customer was allowed to have more than two zombies because it was just so strong.

Zombie (1934)
1 ½ oz Jamaican Rum
1 ½ oz Gold Puerto Rican Rum
1 oz 151 Demerara Rum
¾ oz Lime Juice
½ oz Falernum
½ oz Don’s Mix*
1 tsp Grenadine
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 dash Absinthe

Blend with ¾ cup of crushed ice for 5 seconds. Pour into a chimney glass and top with crushed ice. Garnish with fresh mint. 

There’s even a story - almost certainly too amazing to be true - that Don once had a run in with the mob over the Zombie. As the story goes, two mobsters wandered into Don’s one night and had two zombies a piece. When one of them tried to order a third, Don refused, and things got a bit heated. To cool things off, Don suggested that the mobsters come back the next night and if they could drink three zombies, he’d give them his bar.

The mobsters returned the next night, Don made them each their first zombie, then their second, and then their third. Before getting even halfway through their third round of drinks, both men collapsed on the bar - leaving Don victorious.

Per the legend, Don had won rather nefariously. Rather than making the drink according to his regular recipe, Don had added glycerine to the mixture - a move that was guaranteed to ensure that the drinks acted much faster on the mobsters than they normally would have.

Over time, many of Don’s recipes - even recipes for INGREDIENTS in his drinks - were lost. It took dedicated historians and drinkers to bring them back. Most of all, we have Jeff “Beachbum” Berry to thank for bringing the modern world not just the Zombie (for which he found numerous recipes), but the original, 1934 Zombie punch recipe (you should really get a copy of Jeff’s book, Sippin’ Safari to get not only the recipes, but the stories behind finding them).

Thanks to Jeff’s hard work, at 320 Main, we can serve you Zombies that we feel honor Don’s hard work and absolute boozy genius. Of course, we lack the blender that the recipe calls for, so we make do by shaking with crushed ice until our arms scream for mercy and our hands freeze to the tins - sacrifices well worth the smiles of the Tiki gods.

*Don’s Mix is a mixture of grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup. You can make your own, or you can do what we do and order it from B.G. Reynolds’ Syrups and have it at the ready for all of your Tiki needs!

Matt “RumDood” Robold is a bartender at 320 Main and, in his spare time runs RumDood.com, where he writes about rum, rum cocktails, and rum history.

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