Corpse Reviver #2
¾ oz gin
¾ oz lemon juice
¾ oz Cointreau
¾ oz Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano or a 50:50 split of each
1 dash absinthe
cherry for garnish, optional
Combine ingredients in a shaker. Fill with ice, shake and strain into a chilled coupe or stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry, if desired.
This tart, bracing, and altogether wonderful classic doesn’t need a catchy macabre name to make it memorable, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. As you might imagine, the Corpse Reviver is a popular hair of the dog remedy, taken as something to perk you up. When it's ice cold and consumed quickly, as I think it should be, it's like a turbo-charged shot of fresh-squeezed orange juice. That being said, it is also perfectly appropriate for any occasion, day or night, hungover or not.
The #2 suffix is somewhat superfluous if you ask me. There is indeed a Corpse Reviver #1, but I’m pretty sure it’s sole function these days just to explain the #2 (like I’m doing right now). If you walk into any cocktail bar and order a Corpse Reviver, the #2 is the version you’ll get. You can read more about the Corpse Reviver lineage further down the page.
One of my favorite aspects of this drink is it’s egalitarian composition, similar to the Last Word, with each ingredient sharing an equal portion of the workload (probably just my anal retentive tendencies coming through). Though the absinthe is the real linchpin here. It takes the drink from super tasty, to super tasty and interesting. Just don’t use too much, 1 dash, 2 at the most, is all you need.
Lillet Blanc vs. Cocchi Americano
Lillet Blanc and Cocchi Americano are made in a similar manner to vermouth. They are both fortified wines (meaning wine with some spirit is added) that have been aromatized (infused with herbs, roots and other botanicals). In vermouth terms, they are closest to white/blanc vermouth, a colorless, sweet style vermouth (very tasty in Martinis).
Both are light, straw colored and feature notes or citrus, spice with a touch of bitterness. In addition to being great cocktail ingredients, both are excellent by themselves over ice, or with a splash of soda water (or perhaps sparkling wine) and a twist of orange or lemon peel.
Vermouths, Quinquinas & Americanos
Categorically speaking, the difference between Lillet, Cocchi, and vermouth is their bittering agents. Vermouth traditionally uses wormwood (the German word for which is wermut, which is where vermouth gets its name). Lillet on the other hand, uses chinchona bark, which provides quinine, technically making it a "Quinquina" (keen-keen-AH). Whilst Cocchi Americano uses gentian root, along with some quinine, which classifies it as an "Americano."
Though don't worry too much about the differentiations between these terms. Just think of all these products as wine-based aperitivos, and drink and mix with them as such. You can dig more into different vermouth and fortified wine categories on Martin Doudoroff's wonderful site: vermouth101.com.
Lillet (lill-AY) Blanc is the classic choice in a Corpse Reviver because it was named in the original recipe and until recently, was pretty much the only option available. Hailing from France, Lillet has gone by many names since it’s release in 1872. Notably “Kina Lillet", which is a reference to its status us a Quinquina, and what James Bond calls for it in his Vesper martini (yum!).
Today Lillet is made from a blend of 85% wine from the Bordeaux region and 15% orange liqueur that is then barrel aged, giving it some vanilla notes along with the citrus. It used to include some quinine liqueur as well, though this was removed in 1986 when Lillet reformulated to become less bitter and more broadly accessible. With just the slightest hint of quinine, the overall profile is subtle and easy to drink, like a delicious, mildly sweet white wine with a few flavor accents.
While the Blanc is the flagship Lillet product, they also make a red expression called Lillet Rouge, released in 1962, which has a Merlot base and is closer to traditional sweet vermouth. In 2012, they introduced Lillet Rosé which is made from a mixture of red and white wines and is excellent for mixing. Case in point, it is the primary ingredient in my Magic Hour and La Vie en Rose cocktails (the blanc works in them too).
Produced in Piedmont, Italy since 1891, Cocchi (COKE-ey) Americano uses Moscato d'Asti as its base, which gives it a touch more sweetness and body than Lillet. This is offset by the bitter gentian root, quinine, and all-around increased herbaceousness. But that's not to suggest it has Campari-like astringency. Far from it. The bitterness at the end is very pleasant and I'd imagine is welcome to most drinkers.
In 2010, Cocchi Americano saw a wide scale release and swept through the U.S. luring many bartenders to use it over Lillet. This was thanks in large part to its relative complexity and bitter finish which was said to be reminiscent of the original Kina Lillet formula. Personally, I think the novelty of having a new angle on a familiar classic had something to do with this too. As my mother-in-law likes to say, “familiarity breeds contempt.”
The Cocchi brand makes a number of other products, including a classic sweet vermouth called Cocchi Vermouth di Torino - which is excellent, Cocchi Rosa - a very tasty rosé expression which I use in my Spagliato Rosa, as well as a Barolo Chinato - which is a gorgeous sweet vermouth-like wine that uses the highly coveted Barolo wine as it’s base. Such high quality is a rarity for fortified wines.
Which is Best in a Corpse Reviver? Oh, I don't know...
I am a fan of both in a Corpse Reviver, Lillet is a bit drier, which makes for a lighter, crisper cocktail, while Cocchi lends more gravitas, depth and a slightly richer mouthfeel. I don’t have a favorite. In fact, my favorite Corpse Reviver is made with a 50:50 mixture of the two, or maybe that’s just my way of wriggling out of offering an opinion. If pressed, I think I prefer the dry leanness of Lillet. Though I can’t promise my mind won’t change tomorrow.
Corpse Reviver #1
Though I poked fun at it above, the Corpse Reviver #1 is not a bad drink. Just perhaps not the most dynamic or memorable one. It’s essentially a Manhattan with Cognac and a little apple brandy. In the Savoy Cocktail Book where it first appears, the recipe calls for a 1/2 part Cognac, 1/4 part apple brandy, and 1/4 part sweet vermouth. I think bumping up the apple brandy makes it a bit more interesting. You can either use American style apple brandy, like Laird’s, which gives the drink more of an edge, or Calvados for a rounder, softer cocktail. More on apple brandy here.
It doesn’t call for bitters or a twist, but a dash of Angostura and an orange or lemon peel definitely help matters along.
1 oz apple brandy
¾ oz sweet vermouth
dash Angostura bitters (optional)
orange or lemon peel (optional)
Stir and serve in a coupe or stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with the orange or lemon peel.
History of the Corpse Reviver(s)
The first appearance the Corpse Reviver cocktail as we know it today appears in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. Recipes for both the #1 and #2 are printed, for the #1 he instructs it is “To be taken before 11am, whenever steam and energy are needed.” For the #2, the advice is: “Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the Corpse again.” Ok, good tip. One will do the trick.
But though these recipes have gained consensus as the standard bearers of the Corpse Reviver moniker, references to Corpse Revivers have existed as early as the 1860s, not always as specific drinks, but as a general style. It makes sense, for much of the 19th century cocktails were considered a morning drink. In fact, that’s where they get their name, something to “cock your tail up”, which is a horse reference. You can read more about the origin story in this interview with David Wondrich. The whole thing a great read, especially if you’re a bartender, but for the cocktail etymology scroll down to the end. A warning, it becomes strikingly vulgar.
The earliest recipe under the name Corpse Reviver that we know of appears in the 1871 Gentleman’s Table Guide, which calls for Brandy, some Maraschino and a couple dashes of bitters. So, basically an Old Fashioned, I’m sure it’s fine.
A later recipe comes from Patrick Gavin Duffy’s 1956 Official Mixer’s Manual. Dubbed a Corpse Reviver #3, it is composed of an ounce or so of Pernod (a common absinthe substitute), a squeeze of lemon and topped with Champagne. Sounds pretty good actually.
Another one I’ve seen but not yet tried is the “Savoy Corpse Reviver”, created in 1954 by Joe Gilmore, an apprentice of Harry Craddock, and the head barman of the Savoy Hotel Bar from 1955-1976. It is equal parts, Cognac, Fernet Branca and creme de menthe. Yowza! That’ll certainly get those eyes open. To me, this is the recipe that embodies what I imagined a Corpse Reviver to be when I heard the name. Like the cocktail equivalent of smelling salts, or whatever they give Doc Brown at the end of Back to the Future 3.
There are other Corpse Reviver recipes, you can see some of them here. They run the gamut and contain ingredients like gin, vodka, orange juice and grenadine. So as you can see, there doesn’t seem to be much of a through line from one recipe to the next, other than the name itself. And perhaps that’s the key to the Corpse Reviver at large. The recipe above may be the Corpse Reviver. But a Corpse Reviver can be whatever you want. A Daiquiri would work splendidly I imagine, as would a Sazerac.
Needless to say, we all know the folly of this practice. Drinking to stave off a hangover is a fool’s errand. But it's no doubt there’s something gloriously celebratory about having a little of hair of the dog bit you the night before, or hair from another dog altogether - provided you don’t have much on the agenda that day, of course.