Next in our cocktail journey, we’re uncovering the history of the delicious – albeit gruesomely named – Corpse Reviver No. 2.
If you’ve spent any time in cocktail bars in recent years – and, if you’re reading this, you almost certainly have – then odds are you’ve come across the Corpse Reviver No. 2. A piquant blend of gin, Cointreau, dry vermouth, and lemon juice (plus a brazen whisper of absinthe), the serve is close to a century old, and was initially designed as a hair of the dog-style hangover cure. Today, it’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity thanks to the craft cocktail renaissance, and does double-duty as a brunch favourite as well as an evening indulgence.
But what about that name? Though it may sound a bit surprising to contemporary ears, “corpse reviver” was, back in the 19th century, a catchall term for any drink used to reinvigorate a sipper after an evening of over-indulgence. The definition was wide, and not restricted to a limited range of spirits or ingredients; as a result, recipes for corpse revivers proliferated during the pre-Prohibition era. Sadly, many have been lost to the sands of time – and the only reason the recipe for the Corpse Reviver No. 2 has been preserved is thanks to one Harry Craddock.
One of the most influential bartenders of the 20th century, Harry Craddock secured his place in cocktail history during his illustrious tenure at The American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. It was there that he penned The Savoy Cocktail Book, which includes the recipes for two different Corpse Revivers.
Of the two, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is by far the most popular (the recipe for No. 1 is completely unrelated, and skews towards the digestif end of the spectrum with its blend of cognac, Calvados, and sweet vermouth). Naturally, we side with the legions of gin sippers who favour No. 2 for its sharp, citrusy, and refreshing flavour profile.
Happily, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is also an extremely easy cocktail recipe to remember in the bracing light of day, thanks to its 1:1:1:1 ratio (plus that cheeky dash of absinthe). That means that even the hangover-addled should be able to shake one up with reasonable success after an evening of revelry. But if there’s a time to exercise moderation, it’s now: as Harry Craddock himself warned in an oft-quoted passage, “Four taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse again.” Proceed, dear sipper, with caution.
The Corpse Reviver No. 2
30ml Lillet Blanc
30ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 dash absinthe
Fill a cocktail shaker with very cold ice. Add all five ingredients and shake until well blended. Strain into a chilled Martini or coupette glass. Garnish with a lemon or orange twist – or, for a bit of retro flair, sink a Luxardo cherry into the glass.