NEW SCOTCH SPIN ON A TIKI CLASSIC
There’s something to be said about being able to improve on a classic. It’s rarely ever done right as it’s a hard feat to improve on a tried and true favorite. Case in point, the classic Zombie—a rum-based Tiki legend. And this drinking season the dynamic duo of Jesus Gomez and Adam Vaughn at The Raymond 1886 brought to life their Zombie Apocalypse and this scotch Zombie boggles the mind and taste buds.
This tribute to the Zombie is made with Deanston 12-year Highland single malt scotch, Bowmore 15 Islay single malt scotch, Laphroaig 10 cask, strength Islay single malt scotch, pineapple juice, lime juice, orgeat, falernum, house-made lemongrass syrup, mint, and a zombie apocalypse garnish. This collaboration whole heartedly proves that two brains are better than one.
What follows is a conversation with Jesus and Adam about their splendid Zombie Apocalypse—the standout on the new Final Solstice Winter Cocktail menu at The Raymond 1886.
How did you come with the idea for the Zombie Apocalypse, i.e. a scotch Zombie?
Jesus: We both love the classic zombie cocktail from 1934 and its variations, scotch cocktails, and all exotic potions, and wanted to incorporate these elements into one. 1886 had a scotch based tropical cocktail on one of the seasonal menus, so we wanted to pay tribute to this previous cocktail (Fields of Aberdine) by Lacey Murillo, while putting our brains together on one of our own.
Considering the Zombie is a classic Tiki rum cocktail, what attracted you to using scotch?
Adam: I had visited Scotland and my favorite original cocktail at 1886 is Jesus's Life in the Woods, so Scotch is always on my mind.
Jesus: Using the format of our 1950's inspired Zombie cocktail and its blend of rums, we figured we could come up with a unique yet comparable version using a blend of three different scotches.
I would have thought the scotch profile would be too peaty for a proper Tiki cocktail but that's incorrect. I know you added falernum and orgeat, how else did you soften the scotch taste to get what you wanted?
Adam: The lemongrass syrup was a big part of it. It's so bright, floral, and has its own strong flavor profile. We felt that it could bring out the sweeter notes in the scotches to help dial back the heat and peat. But we wanted heat, we wanted peat, and we wanted the booze to shine through, so it was a delicate balance really.
The presentation of the drink is fantastic. Talk about the glassware and miniature zombie as garnish.
Adam: Jesus had this glassware in his home private collection and it just obviously fits so well for the cocktail because of its presentation and most importantly, it's volume. I jokingly Amazon searched for zombie toy soldiers and of course they had them (not a plug for Amazon, FYI).
But the main goal with the presentation was to take the classic exotic flare, and glitz and just destroy it. Make it look beautifully ugly. Blow-torching umbrellas. Heavy bloody-red Peychaud's bitters covering the body of the zombie. Make the garnish resemble the peatiness of the cocktail too, the beauty in the dirt.
The classic Zombie is a very boozy cocktail. Why is it that standing side by side, the Zombie Apocalypse is smaller (that's the case when Jesus made a classic Zombie)? Because of the amount of booze involved?
Jesus: I think more importantly than size was the dilution factor. We tried other glassware, but most failed and diluted too quickly. We wanted all 37 years of scotch to shine through and found that less dilution took care of that issue. It's still quite boozy by the way, 1oz of Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength is in there!
How would you compare / contrast the two? Which is the stiffer drink?
Jesus: I'd say the classic Zombie is slightly boozier and definitely more layers of different flavors going on all at once. You get that nice layer of absinthe and Velvet Falernum mixed with cinnamon and fresh grapefruit shining through. Here, I think the scotch blend is most prominent, with the lemongrass syrup helping find the balance we were looking for.
Adam: Everyone's palate is different, but it really works out your tasting buds. Bright salty notes on the tip of your tongue, with some of that peat in the finish; perfect sweet levels of lemongrass, nuttiness of velvet falernum, Orgeat and Deanton 12-year coating the middle sections of your tongue, and the aggressive cask strength rounded out by the Sherry-finished Bowmore 15-year.
Considering your cocktail is $24, how much pressure was there to justify the "bang for your buck" involved?
Jesus: It's one of those cocktails where you know cocktails, see the ingredients in it, know the format/style of the cocktail, you know you're getting your money's worth. But in terms of pressure there was none. We knew exactly what we were aiming for. What it was going to cost was outside of our control, but we knew it would be good enough to be worth it.
Zombies are all about eating brains, in this case, working together, how much better were two heads than one?
Adam: Jesus and I have been bartending every Saturday night together for the past two years.
this cocktail together. We each have different skillsets as bartenders and approach making cocktails differently; he's more meticulous, more knowledgeable, more methodical, whereas I'm more sporadic, impulsive, and intuitive. He always knows how to fix my ideas, how to find balance to any cocktail, and it's a treat learning from him. I knew for this drink that lemongrass could work, and that peaty scotches could work, but really two minds made the work much easier.
What do you want someone's experience with the Zombie Apocalypse to be?
Jesus: Just to be open-minded. It's not for everyone, nor did we make it to be for everyone. It's not just for a Tiki enthusiast, to us it's for the real cocktail enthusiast. It's a reminder that you can work within the rules and make something truly unique.
10. What classic cocktail do you want to take on next?
Adam: I know for me, personally, I'm revisiting the classics. Jesus is so knowledgeable, I want to go back to the drawing board, and then find a rule to tweak/break.
Jesus: I've spent a lot of time recreating some of these beautiful classic cocktails at home. Inspired by the work of Jerry Thomas and Harry Craddock, I've come to the conclusion that I haven't played around with egg white cocktails so that might be my next focus. When it comes to gin, scotch, egg whites, Adam is the man you want to approach and ask for help. Not to forget his legendary Lochness Monster using Ardbeg scotch and egg white. There might be another collaborative cocktail with Adam Vaughn, maybe? Egg whites? Champagne? Just throwing it out there.
The Raymond 1886 is located at 1250 S. Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena. Call 626-441-3136.
Story by Jose Martinez