This spirit free Zombie Punch is a tasty non-alcoholic take on the tropical sweet and bitter flavors of a classic tiki cocktail.
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Spirit Free Zombie Punch
One of the most well-known drinks to come from tiki culture is Don the Beachcomber’s notoriously potent Zombie cocktail. Recreations of this secret concoction usually contain no less then four types of liquor, including multiple variations of rum. Because of its near lethal reputation, fully replicating a non-alcoholic version of the drink might seem impossible. Nevertheless, I’ve long been fascinated with the idea of creating a spirit free recipe that still captures the nuanced flavors of classic tiki drinks like this one.
The final product is this Spiritfree Zombie Punch. A base of bitter grapefruit juice balances out the sweetness of three different syrups, and warm spices and exotic falernum add a tropical flair not often seen in more traditional summer punch recipes. It’s the perfect addition to any summer (or summer-inspired) party!
The Original Tiki Classic
There are many versions of the Zombie out there, but the first can be traced back to the “founding father” of tiki, Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (1907-1989), otherwise known by his pseudonym Don the Beachcomber.
Early tiki bartenders were known for their secrecy, and would often pre-mix elements of each drink to hide the exact ingredients from both competitors and their own staff. Recipes would call for a variety of liquors, plus some portion of a mysterious numbered bottle. This wasn’t paranoia – early tiki bars were known for poaching each other’s bartenders and stealing ideas, often one-upping each other in the effort to be the best. Because of this, many of the most famous drinks are a partially known mystery, not only for their secrecy, but because many of the ingredients are no longer in production or have changed recipes themselves. Rediscovering and reinterpreting the recipes for tiki cocktails is a hobby in and of itself. It’s to these “cocktail historians” that I turned to in trying to determine the essential flavors of a well-made Zombie.
The Essential Syrups (and Where to Find Them)
In researching the Zombie cocktail, there were a number of flavors I found to be key to the most well-researched recipes. In addition to rum, most contain Pernod, an anise-flavored liquor that became a popular substitute for absinthe after it’s ban in the United States in 1912. Another key ingredient in the original Zombie was something called “Don’s Mix”. Thanks to the extensive work of tiki historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, we now know that that Don’s Mix is a combination of grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup. Add traditional syrups like Falernum and Grenadine to the cocktail, and you have a pretty strong understanding of the flavors needed to make something akin to a Zombie.
Cinnamon & Anise Syrup: Cinnamon and anise are two essential tiki flavors. While the original Don’s Mix combined grapefruit juice and cinnamon syrup, most modern bartenders see no reason mix the two ahead of time. Instead, I propose making your own cinnamon syrup, and adding some star anise to further replicate the Pernod that would be in a more traditional alcoholic version of the drink. I recommend making your own – its very easy! – but you can also try some combination of store-bought cinnamon syrup and anise extract or bitters if you’d like to experiment.
Falernum: Haven’t heard of Falernum? Don’t worry. It’s one of those historic niche ingredients that, until recently, was only known to the detail-oriented cocktail nerd. With lime, ginger, and almond flavors, it’s basically a twist on orgeat syrup used in a number of tropical drinks. Falernum can be found both as an alcoholic liqueur and a non-alcoholic syrup, so for this recipe I recommend using a syrup, like this one from BG Reynolds.
Grenadine: Not just for Shirley Temples, grenadine is a lovely syrup used throughout the cocktail world. Avoid the sickly sweet artificial versions you find in grocery stores and opt for one made with real pomegranate juice, or take a little time to make your own!
Jamaican Rum Optional
One of the great things about making a large batch non-alcoholic punch is its versatility. Everyone can enjoy the experience of a fancy, well-made drink whether they choose to consume spirits or not. It also means that those that do choose to imbibe can customize their glass to their liking.
For a more traditional Zombie cocktail, portion the rum into individual glasses after doling it out to guests. I recommend using one ounce each of both an aged and white rum for a nice flavor balance. Feel free to use you favorites, but if you need suggestions a combination of Plantation O.F.T.D. Jamaican Rum and Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum have so far given me the best results.
Spirit Free Zombie Punch
- 5 cups grapefruit juice (no sugar added)
- 1 ¼ cup lime juice
- 1 ¼ cup cinnamon anise syrup
- 1 ¼ cup falernum syrup
- ¼ cup grenadine
- 10 dashes Angostura bitters or one dash per glass (see note)
Cinnamon Anise Syrup
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 whole star anise
Make the Cinnamon Anise Syrup
- Combine sugar and water in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture simmer for 10-15 minutes, until slightly reduced and thickened (do not let it come to a full boil). Remove the sauce pan from heat and add the cinnamon stick and star anise. Cover and let sit until cool, 20-30 minutes. Remove the whole spices and transfer the mixture to a jar or bottle. Store in the fridge and use in 2-3 months.
Mocktail Zombie Punch
- Combine all the ingredients in a large pitcher and stir to combine. Chill in the fridge or serve over ice, garnished with tiny umbrellas, fancy swizzle stick, and lime wedges.
Optional Alcohol: It’s easy to customize this punch for guests who prefer the more traditional Zombie complete with rum. After portioning out the Zombie Punch, add 1 ounce each of dark aged Jamaican rum and overproof white rum to individual glasses and stir. I suggest using Plantation O.F.T.D. Rum and Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum for best results.
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