There aren’t, within any given field, a lot of things that are suitable for both novices and professionals. We generally refer to this gap as experience. Whether it’s tennis rackets or sex toys, kitchen knives or high explosives, the introductory item is something of easy pleasures that will, with time, get outgrown.
Not so with the Corpse Reviver #2. Such is its charm. It’s a fantastic introduction to both gin specifically and mixology in general, but it’s also a favorite of a good many of us who live in this cloistered little cocktail world.
Ted Haigh recounts, in the introduction to his book, how he first encountered the Corpse Reviver #2:
“To my amazement, it was the finest thing to ever pass my palate. I could taste every ingredient. It was subtle, it was fresh, it was complex, and it was delicious. My research and acquisitions continued with renewed vigor.”
Despite the fact that he writes like he’s dispatching from a 19th century ship, Haigh was on to something. This drink is delicious.
It appears originally in the Savoy Cocktail Book, Harry Craddock’s 1930 weighty harem of recipes. The “Corpse Reviver” was a popular style of cocktail from the late 1800s to around 1920, when prohibition knocked it out. It is, as you’d imagine, a morning drink. This particular one is tart, bright, and complex, light and unfilling, yet with enough punch to overpower even the worst hangover.
At Little Italy’s newly opened Prep Kitchen, they wisely put it on their brunch cocktail menu. It was Sunday morning, I had fallen asleep at 5:30am the night before, and while I would’ve loved to try something they invented themselves, I saw it on their list and couldn’t help myself.
Corpse Reviver #2
1oz Lillet Blanc
1oz lemon juice
Shake, strain into martini glass, garnish with a maraschino cherry.
I had two that morning, but because no one in this town measures their goddamn drinks, the first was great and the second was not. For this cocktail, the delicate balance is whole point. The stong lemon and Cointreau mix with the weak Lillet and gin and are all complemented by a shadow of absinthe, and when mixed correctly, it’s like a symphony. The overall impression comes tart at first, then fresh sweet orange and spices from the gin and absinthe with a drying finish of Lillet, but this is one of those drinks that you keep drinking because every sip highlights something new.
The Savoy Cocktail Book didn’t offer a garnish: most people drop in a maraschino cherry just for the pure aesthetic fuck of it, though Jeffrey Morganthaler, who’s almost never wrong, suggests an orange peel. Personally, I agree – the orange helps the Cointreau pop and generally enhances the flavors, while the cherry — pretty as it is —is just pretty.
Harry Craddock didn’t editoralize much; his was more in the vein of the “10,001 Recipes!” that we see so frequently these days. He only added one sentence by way of explaining the Corpse Reviver #2: “Four of these taken in straight succession will unrevive the corpse again.”
Trivia!: Corpse reviver #2, you say? What of the Corpse Reviver #1?
The Corpse Reviver #1 is 2 parts Brandy, 1 part Apple Brandy or Calvados, and 1 part Italian (sweet) Vermouth, also in Craddock’s book. This one is puzzling. First of all, it’s not terribly good. It’s not bad, but there’s a reason we all talk about #2.
My question is why anyone would think this was a good morning drink. Corpse Revivers were supposed to be hair-of-the-dog, and this is a thick, sweet, rich drink that I’d barely want after dinner. Who wants a big cup of brandy in the morning? Bizarre.