Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The Drinking Dead
Zombie a la Puerto Rico
3/4 oz. Unsweetened pineapple juice
3/4 oz. Papaya nectar
Juice of a sizable lime
3/4 Barspoon powdered sugar
1/3 oz. Apricot brandy
1 oz. 86-proof Puerto Rican white rum
2 oz. 86-proof Puerto Rican gold rum
1 oz. 90-proof Jamaican heavy-bodied rum
Shake all with ice and pour unstrained into Zombie glass, adding cubed ice to nearly fill. Garnish with sprig of mint, small square of pineapple, and 2 cherries skewered on toothpick set so it bridges the rim of the glass. Carefully pour on a shallow float of 151 proof rum. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and stick in a pair of straws.
~ adapted from "The Esquire Drink Book" edited by Frederic A. Birmingham, 1956
Along with its partner-in-crime the Mai Tai, the Zombie is the drink that likely comes to mind when thinking of classic tiki recipes. And like the Mai Tai, it has an entertaining origin story (regardless of whether it's true or not, it's good that any drink's genesis be established in a way that lends itself to enthusiastic retelling. And all the better if that tale of creation is in dispute...it provides a drink with an aura of mystique and gives booze nerds something to research).
And just like the Mai Tai, conclusively determining the origin of the Zombie has been undertaken by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry. You can read the whole tale in his book Sippin' Safari, wherein he not only details his efforts but provides several versions of the drink (his subsequent book, Beachbum Berry Remixed supplies us with even more variations, so if you want to drink something called a Zombie, you've got a bunch to choose from).
However, if you are even a casual tiki drink enthusiast, you're probably already familiar with the lore, so let's get to drinkin'...
The Zombie a la Puerto Rico is one of three Zombie recipes ( I told you there was a bunch of 'em!) that turn up in The Esquire Drink Book, a great old bar guide from the 50's that's one of my favorites to flip through. I've always wanted to make this version, because it follows the basic Zombie blueprint, but also puts an interesting twist or two on it.
The combo of Puerto Rican and Jamaican rums appears in several Zombie versions, and pineapple juice shows up often as well, so we can file those under "usual suspects." However, the apricot brandy and papaya nectar are two ingredients I've never seen in a Zombie before (unless I'd forgotten about them as a result of having too many Zombies). Do they work? I'd say definitely.
One of the things I consider a hallmark of a well-designed and executed tiki drink is complex, layered flavors that remain distinct and in balance. The Zombie a la Puerto Rico succeeds there. You get solid rum flavor as a foundation, but it doesn't come off hot or bludgeon your tongue with sense memories of college drinks that were 90% cheap rum and 10% something else.* Rather, the rums emerge as subtle and elemental, simultaneously powerful and delicate. The mellowness of the brandy and the almost-not-there character of the papaya pulls the whole thing in a drier direction, and the hefty, tart squirt of lime jousts perfectly with the pineapple, leveling everything off with the requisite tropical vibe (although if you like your drinks a little less bitey, I'd suggest dialing the lime juice back slightly).
But like many drinks that get scrounged up from books with brown pages, it's tough to get ahold of ALL the ingredients used at the time the drink was created. I didn't have any Puerto Rican rum that was exactly 86 proof, so I settled for some similar 80-proof Virgin Island products. I also didn't have any robust Jamaican that came in at 90 proof, so I used a fifty-fifty blend of Smith & Cross and Appleton Reserve that did the job just fine as far as I'm concerned.** I also tend to prefer using simple syrup over granular sugar in most drinks, so I just subbed a small splash of Demerara. Fortunately, the gauge on my vat of Lemon Hart 151 still reads "full", and my stash of Marie Brizard Apry saved the day brandy-wise.***
Oh, and I used a tiki mug instead of a Zombie glass. Because I love those goddamned things.
*These were a beloved staple of my college years. A post on this is forthcoming.
**I really want to try working Coruba into this recipe somehow, but until Pennsylvania lowers the force field it has erected to keep it from entering the state, this experiment will have to wait.
***In a nifty bit of timing, Camper from Alcademics kindly pointed out the Washington Post site just posted a piece on apricot brandy. You should take that as some kind of sign.