The Corpse Reviver # 2 is an old but excellent Martini Variant which has enjoyed something of a…revival in recent years. Potent, but not alcoholically overwhelming. Tangy, but not Sour. And with a lot of depth of flavour and character. It is to my mind a severely under-appreciated classic.
The Corpse Reviver # 2 consists primarily of Gin, lemon juice, vermouth and triple sec. This makes it closely related to a number of different cocktail families or styles without clearly belonging to any of them. This includes the diverse cocktails which take a simple gin sour as a base and then expand it in different directions. From a Tom Collins to a Bramble to a White Lady.
But the use of triple sec as a sweetening agent also links it to Short and Serious classics like the Cosmopolitan, Margarita and Sidecar. And the use of vermouth with gin places it firmly into Martini Variant territory.
Given all these similarities, one might expect the Corpse Reviver # 2 to be indistinct. Not quite this and not quite that. And so close in taste to many other classic cocktails that it ends up as merely a poor copy of them.
But instead the Corpse Reviver # 2 manages to transcend these limitations. Being instead distinctive, excellent and memorable. What more can you ask for in a cocktail?
Saying anything definitive about the history of the Corpse Revivers is close to impossible. This is because they don’t seem to follow any rules regarding cocktail naming conventions. Ordinarily when cocktails share a name they share an identity of some sort. The difference between a Whiskey Sour and an Amaretto Sour is (mostly) just a change of the primary spirit used. But between Corpse Revivers everything changes.
This is because Corpse Revivers were not so much individual cocktails as they were bar terminology. Back in the day, the term “Corpse Reviver” meant a drink which was designed to be part pick-me-up and part hangover cure. In the “hair of the dog” sense. [Meaning that a small amount of alcohol in the morning can be used to kickstart the body’s breakdown of excess alcohol in the bloodstream]. In this way, they were supposed to be drinks which could bring vitality back to the walking dead – those suffering from a hangover.
Seems a bit ridiculous to me since whenever I’m suffering from a hangover, more alcohol is the absolute last thing my body wants. But each to their own.
Anyway, each great bar would likely have its own House selection of Corpse Revivers. With each one being different, and likely with enormous variety between bars. The Corpse Reviver # 2 comes from the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) written by Harry Craddock – likely the greatest bartender of his day. I discovered it in that book several years ago and brought in onto the cocktail menu for a top London bar, as well as subsequent cocktail menus I have written. However, I am hardly unique in that, as it seems that the Corpse Reviver # 2 is enjoying something of a modern renaissance.
But as for the Corpse Reviver # 1 from the same book…it died.
The Corpse Reviver # 2 consists of equal parts of gin, lemon juice, triple sec and Lillet Blanc, along with a dash of Angostura Bitters. Also, to help bring out some of the more subtle flavours it is served in an Absinthe rinsed glass in a manner similar to a Sazerac. This seriously elevates the drink from being decent enough to something special, so is well worth the effort.
Since it is a Short and Serious cocktail, an upper intermediate quality of gin is required. Naturally the lemon juice should be freshly squeezed. And I would always recommend Cointreau as a branded triple sec of choice.
The only ingredient issue is with the vermouth. The original recipe called for a specific vermouth called Kina Lillet, which unlike most vermouths had a distinctly bitter tang to it. However, it has since gone out of production and its replacement, Lillet Blanc, removed that bitter element. This presents a problem when trying to make an “authentic” version of a classic cocktail which specifically listed Kina Lillet as an ingredient.
In the case of the Corpse Reviver # 2, simply adding a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters works just fine, and is the solution I would recommend. It is a far greater problem for the Vesper Martini, since Angostura Bitters don’t work too well there. So I go into greater detail looking at Kina Lillet replacements in the Vesper’s post.
Corpse Reviver # 2
Actually making a Corpse Reviver # 2 is simple enough. Just shake the ingredients together, then double strain out into an Absinthe-rinsed martini glass (or equivalent). And garnish with a twist of lemon zest.
But there are still a couple of issues.
The first is the matter of quantities. As far as I can determine, all Corpse Revivers used to use equal parts of all their primary ingredients. Whatever those ingredients were. Now since we’re using freshly squeezed lemon juice, we should take the volume of juice extracted from half a lemon as our base. Naturally this varies depending on the size of lemon, but tends to be ~20ml. Less than a full shot.
So, squeeze your half lemon into your mixing glass. Then add equal proportions of your gin, Cointreau and Lillet Blanc, a couple dashes Angosura Bitters, and shake. Nice and simple.
The other issue is producing your Absinthe rinsed/washed glass. You’ve got a couple of options here. First is to use a vapourizer to spray a fine Absinthe mist into your glass. But this is a piece of specialist bar equipment you’re unlikely to have in your kitchen. So instead you can pour a little Absinthe into your serving glass, swill it around a little and then discard it. Ideally you should pre-chill your glass in a freezer. But you could instead add some crushed ice to chill it and pour your Absinthe over this, discarding both together.