Story in a Glass: 28 Days Later

by Laren Spirer

Photo Courtesy of Ron Dollete

Allan Katz works at Caña in Los Angeles, a downtown members club and cocktail den focusing on all things rum. Allan’s quest for an updated house Zombie variation began with a somewhat heretical thought for a guy who runs a rum bar – most Zombies just aren’t that good. When Caña first opened, John Coltharp, the head bartender there who concocted the Caña concept, used the 1956 Don the Beachcomber's recipe published in Cabaret Quarterly. His 1956 Zombie had hefty dose of maraschino and a less gargantuan but still reckless amount of rum. The floral presence of the maraschino was a unifying factor for the other ingredients but also proved to be overpowering. It was well suited to tinkering with elements from preexisting Zombie recipes that were also credited to Don the Beachcomber.

Allan started with those recipes as a base, and then decided to engage in a process he called “playing cocktail Jenga,” – identifying almost every spirit ingredient and swapping them out for similar but different ingredients: Spirits that may share a level of dryness with the one they're replacing but then have a notable characteristic that's wholly different, like the smoke on the mezcal. First, he swapped in Tuaca for half the portion of the maraschino. It carries a floral element which tones down the maraschino while complimenting agave, so he pulled out some of the Spanish rum and subbed in reposado mezcal. Like any good Zombie, overproof rum was a key component. He utilized the preferred house version of Goslings where 151 and 80 get blended 1:1 to 115.5 proof. Though not as stiff as the Lemonhart 151, it's plenty dark and strong to give the drink a bass note. For the Puerto Rican rum, Allan tapped into the versatility of Don Q Añejo. Most of the other ingredients remained the same, with the exception of a hit of Cana’s house passionfruit syrup for tartness and reference to another Don the Beachcomber Zombie spec.

The first sip of the new recipe was a revelation.  As Allan described it, it tasted like Satan’s Kool Aid, with a little waft of the smoke from hell. Then he decided to ramp it up another notch.  “Caña,” says Allan, “is not a tiki bar, but if we’re going to do a tiki drink, we want to go over the top with it.”  Having recently seen a horror movie “where some guy was waving around burning sage,” Allan decided there’d be an element of ritual in Caña’s Zombie. He puts Smith and Cross overproof Jamaican rum in a dasher bottle and dashes it over a bundle of mint while waving it over the tiki mug to garnish the drink. Even before the customer takes the first sip, he gets an herbaceous, wild, and funky aroma blast, or as Allan says, “Your nose is already getting its panties pulled off.”

He called his updated Zombie 28 Days, in a nod to the best reworking of a zombie movie he had ever seen.

28 Days Later

  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 oz. fresh pineapple juice
  • 1 oz. Don Q Añejo rum
  • 1 oz. reposado mezcal 
  • 1 oz. 115.5 Gosling's (described above)

The following ingredients are batched into a house mix, 1.75 ounces of which are added to the above.
  • 1/2 oz. Smith & Cross pot-stilled Jamaican rum
  • 1/3 oz. Maraschino liqueur
  • 1/3 oz. Tuaca
  • 1/4 oz. house grenadine
  • 1/4 oz. house passionfruit
  • 1/4 oz. Don's Mix
  • [both are pretty tart]
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters 
  • 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
  • 1 dash absinthe

Short shake with ice cubes then strain over a mix of cubes and crushed ice in a tiki glass. Ritualistically top with a fistful of Smith and Cross-seasoned mint.

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