Tuesday 2 November 2010

The Corpse Reviver No.2

A Corpse Reviver No.2

Halloween got me thinking about this classic concoction. I first encountered the Corpse Reviver No. 2 in an interview with Ted Haigh (a.k.a. “Dr Cocktail”, though I don’t think his qualification is recognised by the medical profession), an American cocktail historian credited with bringing this 1930s bar staple back from obscurity. Many have raved about the complexity of this drink, how you can taste all the elements. In that sense it’s a pretty good example of the whole point of mixology.

1 part gin
1 part Cointreau
1 part Lillet blanc
1 part lemon juice
1–3 drops of absinthe or pastis
Shake all the ingredients together with ice, strain into a Martini glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Most sources seem pretty agreed on this, though personally I prefer to increase the gin and reduce the Cointreau, but I don't have much of a sweet tooth. (In fact reducing the Cointreau and lemon juice by a third creates something that seems to have its own name, the Miracle Cocktail). It's worth playing around with the absinthe so that it's making its presence known but not dominating. The monicker relates to the drink’s ability to revive the hungover, though Harry Craddock's The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) observes: “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”

Craddock actually specifies Kina Lillet but, as fans of the Vesper Martini will know, that is no longer made. Kina is more bitter than Lillet blanc, and in fact most of the slight variants on this recipe I've encountered seem to tinker with the Lillet, while leaving the rest as it is: it's worth trying all the Kina Lillet substitutes mentioned in m'colleague's separate article on the Vesper in his own blog. Simon Difford's Difford's Guide #8 (2009) presents three versions of the Corpse Reviver No.2, none of which uses Lillet—deploying instead dry white vermouth, Yellow Chartreuse or Swedish Punch*, the last one adapted from Victor Bergeron's Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide (1972).

The only major variant I have found under the same name is in Larousse Cocktails (2004). Discussing the Hemingway ("½ measure Pernod, 2½ measures Champagne", a.k.a. a Death In the Afternoon) it adds that replacing 1 tsp of the Pernod with lemon juice makes a Corpse Reviver No.2, a drink the author adds was invented in 1926 by Frank Meier at the Cambon Bar in the Ritz Hotel in Paris. You can see the connection here, though this drink sounds to me like a cross between the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and a French 75.

So what was the No. 1? The Savoy Cocktail Book has this recipe:

¼ Italian vermouth
¼ apple brandy or Calvados
½ brandy
Shake well and strain into a glass. “To be taken before 11am or whenever steam and energy are needed.”

This is the recipe one is most likely to encounter. One US online experimenter comments, “Its use as an invigorator is not without merit. I must say the looming workday is becoming much less so with every sip. There’s almost no harshness, despite the alcohol content, with the Calvados adding a bit of juiciness to it... I also added a schvitz of grapefruit oil to the top, which tends to brighten up flavours, particularly in a juiceless cocktail.”

However, there is another version of the No. 1. Larousse gives it as:

1 measure Cognac
⅓ measure Fernet-Branca liqueur
⅓ measure white crème de menthe
Stir with ice and strain into a Martini glass.

Elsewhere I have found this recipe referred to as a Savoy Corpse Reviver, though it post-dates the Savoy book by some 24 years: Alex'scocktailrecipes.com explains, “Created in 1954 by Joe Gilmore, the head barman of the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel, the cocktail was created for ‘morning after’ clients who required a hair of the dog, but couldn’t remember which dog from which pack of hounds had bitten them.” I suspect that variety is not the secret—the aromatic blast from the Fernet-Branca and the crème de menthe will open any eye.

*Swedish Punch, or Punsch, dates all the way back to 1773 when the Swedish East India Co. started importing arrack from Batavia, Java. Arrack is distilled from rice wine, sugar cane and/or coconut palm sap and barrel aged. Punsch is a blend of arrack and grain neutral spirit, spiced with cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon. It used to be served warm. I've not tried any but I'm told the arrack gives it a smoky rum sort of flavour.

1 comment:

  1. Incidentally, I tried making a Corpse Reviver No.2 using Cocchi Americano the other day and for my money it works much better than Lillet Blanc. I think with Lillet the whole thing becomes too sweet and orangey, hence my urge to reduce the Cointreau and boost the gin. But with Cocchi Americano I find that the original proportions (i.e. equal parts of the four main ingredients) is just right. Which supports the theory that Cocchi Americano is the closest modern product to the old Kina Lillet.

    The recipe is also pretty nice using Americano Gancia, though the resulting cocktail is pink and, oddly, the gin (Tanqueray in this case) got a bit lost.