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Valley of the Zombies

Thea Euryphaessa finds plenty of life in a drink that refuses to die: the Zombie

Written by . Published on October 2nd 2008.

Valley of the Zombies

Why are you reviewing Zombies, my somewhat concerned friend asked? Weren’t they popular in Tenerife circa 1990? The Freshers, I told him. A plague of them stumbling down Oxford Road in the early hours incapable of speech with a slow, shambling gait prompted fuzzy recollections of my early forays into drinking.

As a student, I would knock back double rum and cokes before stumbling upon the Zombie, my first cocktail: a reckless, dizzying swirl of white, golden and dark rum. This was the taste of the tropics courtesy of either passion, pineapple, mango or papaya juice; lime juice; a shot of apricot brandy or cherry liqueur (or cherry whiskey for the more devilish); a splash of grenadine, before finally sealing the deal with a liberal sprinkling of overproof rum. Voila - a Molotov cocktail (you can set light to it) and a ticket straight to hell.

In fact this might just be the perfect aperitif to quaff during a fireside chat with Beelzebub, as any more than two and you may end up feeling you’ve crossed to the after-life the following morning. Although I sampled over a several day period, as the week progressed I increasingly felt like a cast member from Night of the Living Dead. No wonder legendary creator Don the Beachcomber, limited his customers to a maximum of two per person. This is one of the most lethal rum-based cocktails around but also deceptively smooth and easy going.

The rule is to enjoy it slowly, otherwise you may end up stumbling down one inch steps as I did after just one in Mojo. Here was a confident bartender who knew exactly what he was doing, producing a luscious, generously proportioned Zombie that immediately hit me from the feet up.

Over in Socio Rehab, another confident barkeep informed us this was a drink he varied each time he made it. Sometimes he’ll throw a little almond into the mix for good measure, sometimes cherry liqueur, other times apricot brandy. The fruit juices depend on what he has to hand. After all, this is a cocktail that has been open to endless variation since its conception back in the early 1930s.

In Space, a favourite stumbling ground of students, our bartender didn’t seem as clued up on what a Zombie entailed but gave it a good go anyway. I’m all for inventiveness at the bar but am not sure if any rum actually went into this drink. He forgot the finishing touch of overproof rum, but I did spot a splash of cherry liqueur and plenty of fruit juice. Tropical, but lacking in legs.

Next up was Obsidian. This bar wasn’t on my original sampling list as I thought it might be a touch too sophisticated for this often scoffed at, although classic libation, so I was surprised to spy it on the menu. On tasting, I was further surprised at the subtle balance achieved between sweet and sour. Informing us that he preferred to adhere more closely to the original recipe, our bartender imbued his Zombie with smoothness and elegance.

Last up, The Olive Press. Again, I had no plans to sample the Zombie in a Mediterranean style restaurant, but recalling a poor experience at Bolton’s Food and Drink Festival Cocktail Competition Finale (click here), I took an impromptu detour to see what the Manchester branch was up to. I didn’t realise they had a dedicated bar area, but more to my delight they have one of Manchester’s most enthusiastic barkeeps. Although he’d never heard of a Zombie, he whipped out an old copy of Sauces Guide and made it his mission to create my drink. I watched as he poured studiously over the instructions following them to the letter. Several minutes later, he presented me with a balanced Zombie of style and poise. I’m a student he told me and think you should try everything once. That’s the spirit, Antonio.

There was very little difference in terms of quality between the drinks served across Mojo, Socio Rehab, Obsidian and The Olive Press (although Mojo’s and Socio’s were more suited to a sweeter palate). But as I believe the Zombie is a cocktail to get the party started I recommend it be sampled in the livelier atmosphere of Mojo. Just remember to watch your feet on those sneaky steps.

The breakdown:

Venue: Mojo, 19 Back Bridge Street, Manchester, M3 2PB. T: 0161 839 5330

Cocktail: Zombie:(Flavour 4/5, Presentation 3.5/5, Flair 4/5, Ambience 4.5/5)

Total: 16/20

Venue: Socio Rehab, 100 – 102 High Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1HP. T: 0161 832 4529

Cocktail: Zombie: (Flavour 4/5, Presentation 4/5, Flair 4/5, Ambience 4/5)

Total: 16/20

Venue: Space, 11 New Wakefield Street, Manchester, M1 5NP. T: 0161 236 4899

Cocktail: Zombie: (Flavour 2.5/5, Presentation 3.5/5, Flair 2.5/5, Ambience 3.5/5)

Total: 12/20

Venue: Obsidian Bar & Restaurant, 18-24 Princess Street, M1 4LY. T: 0161 238 4348

Cocktail: Zombie: (Flavour 4/5, Presentation 4.5/5, Flair 4/5, Ambience 3.5/5)

Total: 16/20

Venue: The Olive Press, 4 Lloyd Street, Manchester, M2 5AB. T: 0161 832 9090

Cocktail: Zombie: (Flavour 4/5, Presentation 4/5, Flair 4/5, Ambience 3/5)

Total: 15/20

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