The Laughing Zombie

a 12 Bottle Bar original

2 oz Gold Rum
0.5 oz Dark Rum
1 oz Lime Juice
0.5 oz Passion Fruit Juice
1 oz Grenadine
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass
Top with pineapple foam
Garnish with a sprig of mint

Pineapple Foam
2 Egg Whites
1 oz White Rum
2 oz Pineapple Juice
1 oz Simple Syrup (1:1)
0.5 tsp Absinthe

Shake all foam ingredients without ice, then add to a pre-chilled iSi creamer
Charge the creamer, shake, and chill in the refrigerator until needed
Makes enough foam for several drinks

Featured glass: Miss Desiree Claret by Villeroy & Boch

* * *

It’s rare that something unique and new is added to the horror genre. Sure, the Twilight vampires shimmer in the sunlight and Francis Coppola’s Dracula had no problem day-walking as long as he was sporting his John Lennon shades, but for the most part, the mythologies surrounding the archetypes that troll the dark corners of our imagination have remained relatively intact since Romantic literature first popularized them. Collectively, we all know the “rules” that govern the major classes of beasties –vampires, werewolves, and zombies – and we’re prone to cry foul when they’re manipulated in unnatural ways. Occasionally, however, a bit of baroque adornment is added — vampires and werewolves at war – that only enriches the canon. Such is the case with the laughing zombie.

To the question “Why should zombies laugh?” I’ll counter with “Why shouldn’t they?” At the beginning of the zombie-pocalypse novel The Panama Laugh by Thomas S. Roche, the following perquisite quote from Nietzsche is offered: “Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.” And while the novel offers its own suppositions, I think Nietzsche’s answer is as good a justification as any for giggling ghouls, unless you’re willing to accept my own — “because it’s simultaneously freaky and cool.” To me, the idea of the undead running around like cackling hyenas is a natural, why-hadn’t-anyone-thought-of-it-before bit of inspiration that, at once, makes the creatures infinitely more terrifying and their imminent violent destruction much more satisfying (I play for Team Human, by the way).

The reason I chose to feature The Panama Laugh and its snickering specters today is that the novel was just released and its author, the aforementioned Thomas Roche, is my best friend from high school. Since Thomas is responsible for a good chunk of my adolescent predispositions – Pink Floyd, Rocky Horror, Elric of Melniboné – I felt it only proper that I offer him a toast upon the publication of his first book. The story of The Panama Laugh centers on one Dante “Frosty” Bogart, a mercenary-type who wakes up in the middle of the rainforest with a five-year hole in his memory and a world overrun by laughing zombies. If you’re a “BFGs vs. The Undead” fan who thinks that the fight sequence in John Carpenter’s They Live wasn’t gratuitous enough, this is the book for you. It is to non-stop machismo action what Candide was to Age of Enlightenment absurdity.

The reference to Candide is more than just a passing one because it’s at the same time as the publication of that novella (1759) that some of the earliest English references to “zambi” begin to surface. In 1760’s The Modern Part of an Universal History, From the Earliest Account of Time Vol. XVI the Zambi is defined as an African god. A more interesting bit, however, comes from The Critical Review: or, Annuals of Literature Vol. the Forty-Third, (1777) in which we are told that the African people:

“…are said to acknowledge a supreme creator and deity, called Zambi, who is considered as the great cause of whatever is good and beautiful in the world. By his name they swear their most sacred oaths; whose violation, they think, would be immediately punished with sickness. This Zambi they love, but without worshipping him; and reserve their worship for a malignant deity, called Zambi-a-n’bi, whom they fear as the author of all evils.”

From this passage, I think it’s easy to see how the foundations of the modern Caribbean-based zombie migrated to the New World as a by-product of the slave trade. By the 1830s, we see allusions to the “Zombi” in popular fiction, at which time the “god” has become something more akin to a nighttime trickster. It was in 1929, with the publication of William Seabrook’s The Magic Island, that most Americans had their first taste of zombies. Seabrook was an explorer and occultist who traveled the world unearthing black magic practices. He tasted cannibalism (literally) in Africa and, in The Magic Island, the rituals of Haitian Voodoo. His novel formed the basis for the 1932 Bela Lugosi film White Zombie, considered to be the grandfather of all zombie movies. Given the cocktail world’s predilection for riffing on any popular theme, it should come as no surprise that the first Zombie drink came just two years after the release of White Zombie.

If White Zombie is the progenitor of zombie cinema, then the Zombie drink, credited to Donn Beach (Ernest Gantt) and his legendary watering hole Don the Beachcomber, is the well from which all tiki drinks spring. The earliest Zombie recipes date back to 1934, and there’s more than one of them. Over the years, even more variations of the drink would spring up. Due to Donn Beach’s intense secrecy over his recipes, others would try to replicate his popular beverages by reverse engineering them. Some came close, others were way off.

Now, in case you feel like you’ve missed a chapter in our Bottle Reboots, you haven’t. We’re breaking the 12BB rules today, because when a good friend gets his first novel published, we pull out all the stops. Since we weren’t going for authenticity on this one, our recipe is a pastiche of several of the recipes which have appeared over the years. And, while we tried to keep with the general spirit of the Zombie – three different rums and lots of them – we, of course, were after something a bit different – a laughing Zombie. Which meant breaking out the nitrous, and any excuse to play with N2O is a good one, if you ask me.

Without question, nitrous oxide is my favorite gas. After all, what other chemical compound is anesthetic, party favorite, and rocket fuel additive all in one. If we were indeed going to celebrate The Panama Laugh, it meant that we needed to employ a little laughing gas in our drink. Of course, the aforementioned N2O comes in the form of creamer propellant (yawn, I know), giving our drink its foamy pineapple head. What we’ve done is deconstruct the Zombie into two separate elements – the base drink and the foam – and made each of those as tasty as possible. Know that the Zombie is not a highly regarded drink, so we’ve taken liberties to try to fix that. Even with an ounce of grenadine, the tartness of the drink remains – we’ve just tried to smooth out the rough edges. Feel free, of course, to dial the sweetness up or down as you desire. Because of the foam, we also recommend serving this in a highly chilled cocktail glass without ice or straw – it should be kept cold, but you want to drink through the foam, not siphon out just what’s beneath it.

The Laughing Zombie feels a lot like Thomas’ book to me – part classic, part innovation. In any case, I’d like to think that Dante Bogart would appreciate it. After all, any guy who wakes up in the jungle “naked, filthy, and clutching an automatic” could probably use a drink. Even the kind that usually has an umbrella in it.

Movie Time

Watch all of White Zombie:


Also, watch Harvard psychologist Dr. Steven Schlozman explains the science of zombies.

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8 Responses to “The Laughing Zombie”

  1. Carolyn Tabor via Facebook
    September 23, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    You are a genius!

  2. Anonymous
    September 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    This is truly a pretty drink – you could even say a cocktail!
    Not sure about the egg white – metil [cellulose} is a bit more neutral in taste; and grenadine you could switch with real pomegranate syrup. And there is also not a passion fruit juice - but fresh passion fruit pulp [I would fav] or passion fruit nectar…

    • Anonymous
      September 24, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

      Obviously, feel free to make yours as your wish. The grenadine is homemade from real pomegranate juice, and yes, the passion fruit juice is, in fact, a juice. I use Ceres, which is a blend of pear and passion fruit.

      • Eric Kohs
        October 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm #

        Indeed. Ceres passionfruit juice is delicious.

        This is a fantastic drink with a nicely aged Barbados rum in the cocktail, plus a dash of creme de menthe in the foam.

        • twelvebottles
          October 3, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

          I think both of your tweaks would be delicious.


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