12 Best Rums For A Zombie

According to Beachbum Berry, the Zombie is a high-octane tiki drink originally invented in 1934 by restaurateur Donn Beach at his Hollywood haunt, Don the Beachcomber. The cocktail's recipe was kept secret for many years after its debut, and Beach himself tweaked it here and there without ever publicizing what exactly was in it. Other tiki bars of the era sought to recreate Donn's magic mix by poaching his bar staff, but the original Zombie's secret recipe remained closely guarded for many years.

While modern cocktail enthusiast Jeff "Beachbum" Berry claims to have sleuthed his way into the "true" Zombie recipe, bartenders across the world are liable to serve up any number of permutations on the tiki classic. What you can rely on, though, is a drink with three (and sometimes four) rums, along with fruit juice, and citrus. Berry compares ordering a Zombie with going to a potluck dinner: "[You get] whatever juices and syrups happen to be behind the bar that night, spiked with an equally indiscriminate mix of cheap rums. Not even a binge-drinking frat boy would risk his fake I.D. on the result."

What we know for sure, however, is that a Zombie should have a mix of light, dark, and overproof rums. If you want to do right by Donn Beach and make a Zombie the "real" way, stick to a mix of Puerto Rican rum, Jamaican rum, and 151 demerara rum. 

1. Bacardí

According to its website, Bacardí rum was first released in 1862. That kind of staying power doesn't happen without some sort of secret sauce, and Bacardí has it in spades. Bacardí Superior Rum is a solid Puerto Rican rum that clocks in at an accessible price point and performs well in just about any cocktail that calls for a lighter-style rum. It sees a little bit of time in American white oak but is lifted before the wood can impart a whole lot of color or secondary flavoring. The result? A beautifully balanced, aromatic rum that lays a very approachable foundation in your next Zombie cocktail.

In the Bacardí brand's own Zombie recipe, Bacardí Superior white rum plays first fiddle. The recipe foregoes the rule of three, calling for an ounce of the clear stuff and then just ¾ ounces of black rum to round out the spirit's base. This will make for a lighter-style Zombie than some of the real heavy hitters, but that's not always a bad thing. When you've got a cocktail recipe that calls for mixing a few different hard spirits before introducing liqueurs and juices, it's arguably wise to start slow and see how that first one hits ya.

We won't be revisiting Bacardí later, but suffice to say that the brand's spiced, gold, and black rums are all more than serviceable if you're looking for brand continuity on your home bar.

2. Palo Viejo Rum

What to say about Palo Viejo Rum? It's one of Puerto Rico's most well-known and widely available rums, yet it's curiously absent from the internet. It has no website, and its Instagram has a meager following. Thanks to Palo Viejo's lack of marketing and low price point, the unstudied shopper might spot it on a shelf and figure it for a dorm room swiller. It does clock in under $20 for a full liter, after all. Yet that's precisely the reason it made this list. Palo Viejo is inexpensive, accessible, and surprisingly good for how cheap it is. Remember the eye-watering shots of Popov vodka you took when you were just starting out? Yeah, this is not that. This is a balanced light rum that's perfectly suited to play its part in your next Zombie.

Now, we don't want to spread rumors. This stuff won't win any awards as a sipping rum. But for a cocktail as aggressively booze-forward as the Zombie, you don't need to break the bank on ingredients whose flavors might end up muted by the liqueurs, bitters, and juices that accompany it. This is the white rum you get when you're hosting a party and plan to make a bunch of Zombies for your friends — or make your friends into a bunch of zombies.

3. Plantation 3 Stars

Plantation 3 Stars is not a Puerto Rican rum, but it is a white rum that we love if you're willing to bend the rules and branch out beyond the strictures of Donn Beach's original recipe. According to Plantation's website, 3 Stars is a blend of rums from Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad. Each imparts its own characteristic on the final product, which you can expect to have spicy notes on the nose with a clean, grassy taste that will bounce off the fruit and citrus of a Zombie quite nicely.

Plantation says this rum is perfect for a daiquiri, and we don't disagree. But no spirit should be restricted to one cocktail, and we've chosen Plantation 3 Stars for the Zombie because it's another great value grab. At around $20 a bottle, this stuff is well worth the money — especially when you account for the inclusion of Jamaican terroir in the equation, which lends a bolder character to the spirit than you might expect from a white rum. If Bacardí makes a "The Walking Dead" zombie, this will make a "28 Days Later" Zombie.

4. Don Q Cristal

We would be remiss not to include Don Q when talking about which Puerto Rican rums to include in a Zombie. Don Q is widely accepted as Puerto Rico's most famous rum, and its website claims that the brand's white rum, called Don Q Cristal, is so smooth and balanced that you could swap it out for vodka in a vodka cocktail and no one would be the wiser. Bold claim, but the company's been around since the 19th century, so we're not second-guessing them.

This stuff is another insane value bottle, with a standard 750ml going for $10-20 in most places. If you're willing to experiment, try one of Don Q's flavored white rums. We recommend the Don Q Piña, a pineapple-flavored number that is an obvious choice for tiki drinks like the Zombie. According to Don Q's website, this rum is infused with pineapple and then aged in American white oak for more than a year to smooth it out. Yum!

5. Myers's Dark Rum

Once you've taken care of the light rum to lay a base in your cocktail, it's time to beef things up with a Jamaican rum. What better than the classic standby, Myers's Rum Original? Though it's bottled in Kentucky, Myers's distills using 100% Jamaican molasses. The resultant product is a rich, spicy, and layered Jamaican rum that fits neatly into any Zombie cocktail. It's also reasonably priced and has brand name recognition that might steady the nerves of a reluctant inductee to the world of Zombies.

According to its website, Myers's was founded in 1879. After nearly a century and a half in business, the brand has earned itself more than enough street cred to win a spot on our list for the Jamaican portion of our Zombies. The rum is sweet, nutty, and hefty enough that you can even repurpose it for other brown liquor cocktails once tiki drinks have worn out their welcome. We suggest trying it in an Old Fashioned.

6. Smith & Cross

Smith & Cross is a Jamaican rum distilled in England. According to its website, the brand's history dates back to 1788 when it had a sugar refinery located on Thames Street near the London Docks. Today, its Jamaican rum business is booming, and many of Smith & Cross's spirits are kept in underground cellars that run along the River Thames.

Despite this, the stuff is widely available in the United States, and thank goodness for that. "Banana" is a common descriptor that liquor nerds use when describing spiced or dark rums, and the word never made as much sense as it does here. There's an unmistakable, pronounced flavor of caramelized banana that gives way to warming spices like cinnamon or clove on the back end. This is the perfect second step for your Zombie and one that'll play nicely off some of the lighter, more aroma-driven white rums out there. Word to the wise, however: This rum is Navy Strength (i.e., 57% ABV), which means you might want to go light on your pour. Either that or skip the 151s that come later in the recipe.

Ya know, or neither. We're merely making suggestions.

7. Black Tot

Of the rums we've selected, Black Tot has some of the coolest branding. According to its website, the brand's name comes from Black Tot Day, the final day on which the British Royal Navy issued its sailors a daily ration of rum. These rations (or "tots") were fairly popular among the sailors, and many seamen held mock funerals to mourn the end of their rum era. 

Black Tot Rum, however, claims that the sailors' loss was our gain. Rather than mourn the loss of the armed forces' rations, Black Tot celebrates the navy's tradition of artful rum blending by producing a superior product that both hearkens to a bygone era while helping usher in a new one. Black Tot Finest Caribbean is not strictly a Jamaican rum, though we've selected it as a stand-in for the Jamaican portion of our Zombie recipe. It's a blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana, and Jamaica, and provides an excellent layer of chocolatey coffee notes to your cocktail. At 46% ABV, this rum is slightly overproof, but still a far cry from the Navy Strength or 151s you'll be wanting to include in your drink. Cheers!

8. Kōloa Kauaʻi Spice Rum

We're going a little off the cuff, here. Though Donn Beach's original recipe doesn't strictly call for a spiced rum, we believe there's more than one way to skin a Zombie. And after trying several variations on the classic over the years, we promise that introducing spiced rum to the Zombie cocktail won't compromise its integrity. On the contrary, it often adds a delightfully spicy lift to both Zombies and any other rum cocktail you want to toss it in.

Our left-field choice for spiced rum is Kōloa Kauaʻi, a Hawaiian spirit produced from pure sugar cane and then spiced with restraint, resulting in a product that is softer and less cloying than some of the overly sugary commercial spiced rums out there. The brand refers to this as an "adult's version" of the classic spiced rum. This raises troubling implications about who exactly is drinking all the other spiced rums, but we think we get the brand's meaning: Kōloa Kaua'i is a sophisticated, well-balanced spiced rum that'll jazz up your Zombie and do double duty in your cabinet as an everyday sipper.

9. Goslings Black Seal 151

Once you've got the light and dark rums taken care of, it's time to light a fire under your Zombie's butt. Best way to do that? A hot, boozy 151. The number "151" refers to the proof of the spirit and means any rum bearing that label will clock in at a whopping 75.5% alcohol by volume. 

As far as extremely overproof rums go, Goslings Black Seal is a no-brainer (pun absolutely intended). This Bermuda rum is as balanced and flavor-forward as any 151 can hope to be, with chocolate, vanilla, coffee, and spice notes up front, before that hurts-so-good burn on the back end. According to its website, Black Seal is made from a 150-year-old Gosling family recipe and is so well-liked by rum drinkers around the world that it's earned the title of Bermuda's number one export product.

If that's not enough to convince you to include this rum in your next Zombie, try it in one of the many recipes Goslings advertises on its website, including rum negronis, apple cider martinis, and a slew of food products like chestnut stuffing or rum and maple syrup sweet potatoes. There are plenty of easy rum cocktails to experiment with — don't limit yourself.

10. Lemon Hart 151

As the overproof rum specifically named in Beachbum Berry's account of Donn Beach's original Zombie recipe, Lemon Hart 151 has a serious reputation to uphold. Once you get a taste of this stuff, you'll understand why. The palate is a symphony of baked and stewed fruits, chocolate and vanilla, sugar, and spice. It's hot and boozy, sure (what 151 isn't?), but it's also smooth and supple, with a great texture that makes it palatable on its own, despite being roughly as strong as rocket fuel. 

Of course, we're not planning to drink it on its own. It goes in a Zombie, and the strength of its flavor will show nicely in the cocktail even if the rum's true purpose is just to booze the thing up. This was Donn Beach's choice for 151, and far be it from us to second guess the inventor of the drink. Despite what the recipes might say, only go as heavy-handed as you're comfortable with when flirting with 151. This stuff is no joke, and it can sneak up on you like...well, like a Zombie.

11. Hamilton Demerara Overproof 151

Ed Hamilton is a spirits enthusiast who, according to Imbibe, has styled himself the Minister of Rum. He both imports other distillers' rums and produces his own, and when he's not working he's often spreading the rum gospel through his website and two books on the topic (via Chambers Street Wines). 

Hamilton Demerara 151 is an overproof rum that goes toe to toe with Lemon Hart, which is no mean feat. Hamilton is produced in the same Demerara Distillery in Guyana that makes Lemon Hart and is a blend of different aged rums. The result is an incredibly complex yet smooth overproof spirit that serves as a valuable tool in any mixologist's arsenal.

Our old pal Beachbum Berry made friends with Ed Hamilton, and the two collaborated on a rum meant specifically for a Zombie. Their goal was to eliminate the three-rum requirement that Donn Beach's recipe called for, and instead simplify the drink with one does-it-all rum. We've not tried the gruesome twosome's concoction ourselves, but it's worth looking into if the Zombie really sweeps you off your feet and you want to get creative for next time!

12. Pusser's

The name "Pusser's" is a bastardization of the original "Purser," a title given to the fellow responsible for distributing the daily "tot" of rum to sailors of the British Royal Navy before those rations were outlawed in 1970 (via Pusser's Rum). Pusser's is a popular go-to for Navy Strength and other overproof rums, and it's easy to see why once you've had a taste. The stuff is just plain good, with the same leathery tobacco meets spicy wood notes you might expect from other high-quality 151s, while retaining a remarkable sense of balance and poise, given how strong it is.

The brand ages its 151 in accordance with the same rules that governed the production of rum for British sailors, preserving a piece of spirits history in each bottle. If that's not enough to convince you, consider this: The folks behind Pusser's are Zombie lovers just like us, as proven by their own recipe that provides a delicious take on Beach's classic cocktail. If the 151 is a bit too rich for your taste, you can also try Pusser's Gunpowder Strength Rum, which is "only" 109 proof (54.5% abv). The name comes from stories of sailors accusing their Purser of watering down daily rum rations. To prove his innocence, the Purser would throw a bit of gunpowder into the cask and light it on fire. If it ignited, it proved he hadn't diluted the stuff. There's no actual Gunpowder in Pusser's Gunpowder, but it's still plenty hot.