Mixology is storytelling, and when people look through a cocktail menu and see the range of drinks on offer, they are preparing to be taken on a journey of the senses, from sights, to sounds, to smells, to touch and finally to that almighty taste.
When it comes to fascinating cocktail stories, it is hard to top a drink associated with a World’s Fair, the walking dead, drink theft, mafia ties and a skull-shaped glass.
Hair Of The Dog
Most people who have tried a Zombie would be utterly bewildered at the idea that it could possibly be a cure for a hangover, but in 1934, this was the original intent of Donn Beach, founder of the famous Don the Beachcomber Tiki Bar.
Given that the drink features three different types of rum, including overproof rum so potent it could be set on fire, alongside liqueurs and fruit juices, exactly how it could have helped with a hangover is unclear.
Regardless, Mr Beach’s customer, a deeply hungover businessman heading into a meeting he was dreading, needed perking up and so he drank the first-ever zombie and coined its name a few days later when he came back to Don the Beachcomber to complain that he had been akin to the living dead.
Because of this, when Mr Beach started selling them, he limited customers to two Zombies a visit because of just how strong they were. However, this was not his only worry.
Hottest Spot North Of Havana
Don Beach was infamous for keeping his recipes secret and used a rigorous code for his cocktail recipes as well as constantly changing them to keep them fresh and catch competitors out who tried to duplicate his work.
One of the most infamous men who made a famous Zombie copycat was Monte Proser, who
took credit for the drink after it was somehow served during the 1939 World’s Fair. It was not the same drink or even close, but it managed to draw attention to the drink and lead to legions of imitators.
None of them managed to copy the subtleties of what was a complex cocktail, complete with falernum, grenadine, Pernod, Angostura bitters and a mix of grapefruit juice and cinnamon known as “Don’s Mix”.
These flavours kept the drink smooth despite its considerable alcohol content and were also the hardest to copy.
Regardless, Monte Proser managed to channel that infamy into becoming the name on the lease for the infamous Copacabana nightclub that was the subject of a famous Barry Manilow song.
However, it was really owned by mob boss Frank Costello of the Luciano crime family, and it would not take long before Mr Proser would be kicked out in favour of the ex-convict Jules Podell once the club had been established.
The original recipe was believed to be lost to time until Jeff “Beachbum” Berry published Sippin’ Safari, a book about the development of the drink with the help of interviews with former bartenders and deciphering the original recipe from an old bartender’s notebook.