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G&H Cocktail Club: Zombie Swizzle

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If you thought drinks with umbrellas, exotic ingredients, and rich, dark rum were only appropriate for the spring and summer months, think again. The inherent spice in most tiki drinks makes them a perfect companion for fall imbibing. And who couldn’t use a little escapism these days? The Zombie – one of the original tiki cocktails created by Don the Beachcomber in mid-1930’s Hollywood – is the ultimate Halloween weekend beverage. However, to make a true Zombie, you’d need to get through a long prep list that would include: making a fresh cinnamon syrup, making your own falernum (more on that below), blending three different rums together, making real grenadine, and freshly squeezing grapefruit and lime juices before you even begin to measure your ingredients. 

I’m going to make things a little easier for you by paring down the prep and “monster mashing” the Zombie and another Caribbean-inspired drink, the Swizzle. With origins on the island of Bermuda, the Swizzle cocktail – made by rapidly rotating a swizzle stick between both hands – combines fresh juices (lime, pineapple, orange) with rum and an elixir from Barbados known as Falernum.

Falernum is a fascinating topic in the world of beverage, as no one knows how it acquired its mysterious name. Some believe the term dates back to ancient Rome, when “Falernian wine,” made near Mount Falernus, was prized for its magical qualities and became the beverage of choice for high society. Flash forward hundreds of years to the island of Barbados in the late 1800s, and you start to see mentions of a curiously delicious local beverage made from almonds, spices, ginger, and lime fortified by local rum. The story goes that when a traveler asked one of the locals about the recipe and list of ingredients, they were told “Half a’ learn em,” with a wink, as in ‘you have to learn them,’ or ‘figure it out yourself.’ Like an early game of telephone, that phrase became “Falernum,” and as soon as Americans began mixing it into cocktails, they were hooked. 

Don the Beachcomber – who essentially invented the American drinking genre of “tiki” – learned of Falernum during his sailing trips through the Caribbean, which later inspired him to distill all of his traveling adventures into the creation of the modern tiki bar. When Don began experimenting by blending together different rums and combining them with fresh juices and carefully made syrups and falernum, he eventually created his masterpiece: the Zombie. The original drink was so strong that many of the Beachcomber bars that would open across the United States in the 40s and 50s would only allow customers one Zombie per visit. 

The art of making your own falernum from scratch is a fun undertaking and can yield some incredibly delicious results. You’ll be julienning ginger, zesting a ton of limes, juicing them, chopping up almonds, and toasting spices. Falernum #9 is the most oft-replicated recipe, and since it contains a fair amount of alcohol, it will last in your refrigerator for months. Thankfully, for those of us who are already spending too much time in the kitchen, there is John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, made by rum legend Richard Seale in Falernum’s birthplace of Barbados. Taylor’s Velvet version is readily available in the United States and gives any drink made with it a luscious, island-spiced kick. With this lighter version of the Zombie, you can even allow yourself more than one. Just watch out for the ghost of Don the Beachcomber.  

Zombie Swizzle

Prep Time: 5 min

Makes: 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. Jamaican Rum (Appleton, Wray and Nephew, and Hamilton Black are all great choices)
  • .75 oz Taylor’s Velvet Falernum
  • .75 oz Fresh lime juice
  • .25 oz Fresh grapefruit juice
  • 2 Dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 Dash of cinnamon
  • 1 Dash of nutmeg
  • Cinnamon stick and a lime wedge for garnish
  • Beverage umbrella (optional)

Directions

For an optional, pyrotechnic fire garnish, here’s what you’ll need: 
  • ½ – ¾ oz. Hamilton or Bacardi 151, or Plantation OFTD rum (you’ll need something overproof) 
  • Half of a lime that has been hollowed out and turned inside out 
  • 1 crouton

Place the crouton in the lime shell and pour the overproof rum over it. Let it soak through the crouton for a minute and light it on fire*. Dash some cinnamon over the top of the fire to create a sparkling effect. Blow out the fire before enjoying your drink. If this idea frightens you, don’t do it. As I’m sure you know, fire can be dangerous when combined with alcohol.

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