The Zombie and The Mai Tai: Two Historic Tiki Cocktail Recipes

Zombie at Acabar
Zombie at Acabar
Anne Fishbein

At last week's Golden State of Cocktails, one of the best seminars was tiki-themed. Lead by Joe Swifka of La Descarga and rum enthusiast Matt Robold (who runs the website, the seminar traced the history of tiki culture, which began in Los Angeles with Don The Beachcomber in 1934. Despite the imagery and marketing of tiki, Robold explained that most of the drinks actually had Jamaican roots. "These drinks were planters punch pretending to be something from French Polynesia," he said. 

One of the more interesting aspects of tiki was how closely guarded the recipes for the drinks were. The lengths Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic's went to to keep their formulas from their competitors was amazing. Firstly, the drinks were made in back, in a closed kitchen. Secondly, the bartenders in back often didn't know the ingredients either - the proprietors pre-batched many components of the drinks, and the bartenders simply mixed together whatever was in color-coded or code-named bottles. Thirdly, some of the blends of ingredients going into the drinks weren't even made in-house - Donn Beach, owner of Don the Beachcomber, famously had many of his ingredients blended by a pharmacy. 

Because of all this secrecy, it took years of cocktail anthropology to unearth the original recipes for tiki's most famous drinks. But thanks to dedicated enthusiasts, those recipes have come to light. Below, you can find the original recipes for the Zombie, created in 1934 at Don the Beachcomber, and the Mai Tai, created in 1944 at Trader Vic's (though Donn Beach claimed the recipe was stolen from him). 

"People say mixology died with prohibition and didn't come back until recently," Robold said during the seminar. "But go back and look at tiki, and the precision and dedication it took, and tell me that's not craft cocktails." 

1934 Zombie Punch
From : Don the Beachcomber
Yield: 1 drink

1 1/2 oz gold Puerto Rican rum
1 1/2 oz Jamaican rum
1 oz 151 Demarara rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz Donn's mix*
1/2 oz falernum
1 teaspoon grenadine
8 drops absinthe 
1 dash bitters

* Donn's mix was the most secret of secret ingredients used in the Zombie and remained a mystery for years. Turns out it was grapefruit and cinnamon syrup. You can find a recipe for the mix here

1. In a blender, blend all ingredients with 1/4 cup of ice for 5 seconds.

2. Pour into a chimney glass and garnish with mint.

1944 Mai Tai
From: Trader Vic's 
Yield: 1 drink

1 oz Jamaican rum
1 oz Martinician Rhum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz oregat
1/2 oz curacao
1/4 oz rock candy syrup (rich simple syrup)

1. Mix all ingredients and shake with crushed ice.

2. Pour into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with mint and an empty lime hull. 

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