San Francisco’s Benjamin Cooper Revivifies ZIMA

Benjamin Cooper's Z.I.M.A.

Benjamin Cooper’s Z.I.M.A.

Do you remember ZIMA? ZIMA, the smash hit easy-drinking malt beverage delivered to the world from Coors Brewing Company (now Miller Coors) in 1994, is with us no more (Coors discontinued it years ago) but a mini-revival in the clear, citrusy beverage is well underway. To wit, Brian Felley & Mo Hodges, owners and drink-slingers extraordinaire at the just-opened cocktail and oyster bar Benjamin Cooper in San Francisco’s Union Square, re-built ZIMA from taste memory and put the drink on their opening menu. “When ZIMA came out, I was in high school,” says Felley. “The high school ladies did not want to drink beer, they drank ZIMA.” (Insert knowing chuckle here.)

Felley’s ZIMA includes gin, clarified lime cordial, Genepy, and candied lime zest. The mild sweetness of the drink, tipped with an edge of bitterness, is a close match for Coors’ ZIMA. (According to this Food & Wine article, ZIMA is still produced and sold in Japan, the only country where you can purchase one of the required ingredients to recreate the original ZIMA.) Even better, its mostly clear character with just a tinge of white was reminiscent of 1994 when every new product that entered the marketplace, from alcoholic beverages to soap, was redesigned and repackaged as CLEAR. Do you remember Pepsi Clear?

Phil Dunphy does. Dunphy, played by Ty Burrell in ABC’s Modern Family, makes an “everything ‘90’s” quip about ZIMA in Season 5, Episode 22 (first aired on May 7, 2014). When Dunphy’s daughter, Haley (played by Sarah Hyland) asks: “What’s ZIMA?”, Dad replies: “Just a party in a bottle. Man, that reminds me of some wild times – crankin’ the Björk in my Saturn before me and my buddies snuck some Z into ‘Sleepless in Seattle.’” Ah, Phil, ever one for nostalgia.

Back at Benjamin Cooper, Felley and Hodges keep the drink list fresh and playful, adding new concoctions as whim and whimsy strike. “There are always a variety of flavors and textures in our drinks,” says Felley, whose menu this week includes the $LU$HEE with cara cara granita and a Stoned Ruby with cachaça and strawberry-tarragon ice. One thing is for sure: ZIMA continues to resonate in the America’s drink consciousness. For more proof that ’90’s nostaligia is trending in beverage world, take a look at Mountain Dew’s about-to-be-released, clear, citrus-flavored Dew Shine.