Corpse Revivers

January 5th, 2008

Having finally recovered from my rather excessive consumption of certain libations on New Years Eve, it seemed appropriate to look at an old family of cocktails which were traditionally consumed as hairs of the dog – drinks to refresh you after a heavy night. The reviver was popular during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century but began to die out after prohibition when complex “up” drinks went out of fashion, and now the category is all but dead.

The exact nuances that separated a Corpse Reviver from any other cocktail have been lost to time, as indeed have most of the recipies. Of those that remain the most famous are the two listed in The Savoy Cocktail Book, the second of which, the Corpse Reviver No. 2, comes highly recommended by nearly everyone. However, that is coming up later – we start with the first. Can you guess what it’s called?

Corpse Reviver No. 1 cocktail

Corpse Reviver (No. 1)

Harry Craddock writes that the Corpse Reviver No. 1 should be drank “before 11am, or whenever steam and energy are needed.” Frankly, while not a terrible cocktail, I really cannot imagine ever wanting to drink this before the evening, especially if I were hung over! It is a very rich mixture, with a heavy brandy taste lightened only slightly by a hint of apple from the Calvados and a floral sweetness from the vermouth. Perfectly drinkable, but ultimately unremarkable.

Corpse Reviver No. 2 cocktail

Corpse Reviver (No. 2)

Now this is remarkable. The Corpse Reviver No. 2 is a wonderfully complex drink, each ingredient clearly identifiable yet perfectly balanced with the others. You get the tartness of the lemon, the slightly sweet orange hints of Cointreau, the floral notes of the Lillet, all backed up with a good gin base. The dash of absinthe provides a very subtle anise finish, which is only just perceptible but works great.

You have to be really careful with measurements in a drink like this. The balance is very precarious, and an extra ¼ oz here or there will really change the profile of the drink. Especially important is the “dash” of absinthe. Dashes are always a difficultly when approaching classic cocktail recipes – a dash of bitters is often very different to a dash of, say, lemon juice. In this case I found about ¼ teaspoon worked about right, just be careful not to overdo it – less it more.

This drink, along with others like the Last Word and the Purgatory, really reminds me of what cocktails are all about – taking base ingredients and creating something greater than the sum of the parts. Just be careful; as Harry advises “four of these taken in straight succession will unrevive the corpse again“…

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Posted in Absinthe, Calvados, Cognac, Curaçao & Triple Sec, Gin, Lemon, Lillet, Recipes, Vermouth

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15 responses to “Corpse Revivers”

  1. Dr. Bamboo Dr. Bamboo says:

    I love the CR #2, but have yet to try the #1 (probably because I don’t have any Cognac).

    And you are definitely right about the careful measuring…I used the recipe from Ted Haigh’s book, and if I’m remembering correctly, he calls for one DROP of the absinthe substitute (which actually manages to come out in the mix!)

  2. Rick Rick says:


    I somehow always forget about this drink (#2), and I’m always glad when others post about it to remind me. It’s such a fine potion. Amusingly enough, the one I just shook up tastes a bit sweet, but that’s probably because I just enjoyed a cocktail filled with Fernet Branca. :)

    It’s amazing, too, how large a role the pastis plays. I have mistakenly forgotten it before, deleting several layers of complexity. Give it a try sometime.

  3. anthony anthony says:


    my body seems set up to work best on sugars and fats, and as such, my best hangover cures, aside from fresh air and going to the toilet, are:
    sorbet, esp. citrus flavours
    something slightly oily
    more booze

    anyway my favourite drink on a serious hangover is a tacky homemade frozen margherita, with a bacon sandwich.

    however this one hangover cure I once tried stuck in my head, I tried to find a recipe online, but can’t, so here is a stab at it. Basically it’s a bastardised bloody mary with a spare rib stuck in it that you can eat. boom.

    ** vodka
    ** tomato juice
    ** a cooked leftover-from-last-night pork spare rib, with whatever bbq/honey rib sauce it had on it.
    ** dashes worcester sauce to taste as normal
    ** use chili sauce instead of tabasco
    ** grind a bit of black pepper over it

    mix ingredients over ice as normal, stir with rib(!)
    drink and chew, smile as feel your soul wither slightly

    ps I like the peach bitters with the gin and blackberry lime drink, not too sure about the name though! something a bit more poetic and summery maybe? bumpkin sounds more like an ale?

    loving your work anyway

  4. Vidiot Vidiot says:

    The Corpse Reviver No. 2 is my very favorite cocktail…I’ll never forget my first visit to the Pegu Club, where I saw the waitress hand my order to the bartender, whose head snapped up to look me over before he made the drink. (I evidently measured up, because it was a wonderful drink.)

  5. EvilJonny EvilJonny says:

    The #2 is by far my favourite cocktail, also one of the first I ever had. If you ever get the chance you should go to The Voodoo rooms in edinburgh. They do an amazing #2 (along with a host of others, the grande diablo also ranks very highly).

    The complexity of the #2 and the tiny hint of anise always excites me!

  6. Jay Jay says:

    EvilJonny – Having met some of the great bartenders of Edinburgh at the Class Bar Awards last week, Edinburgh has moved swiftly up my list of must-see cocktail cities. I’ve been a few times before in my pre-cocktailian days and love the city, so look forward to discovering its bars too!

  7. JohnBrownEyes JohnBrownEyes says:

    Corpse #2 is a fantastic drink ! I happened to have gin in the freezer, Lillet Blanc in the fridge, La Belle Orange on the kitchen table, Ricard (left over from previous Sazeracs) and half a lemon…and realized I could make this one last night. Easy to make, all equal measures..with a drop of the pastis..It’s a wonderful, well balanced libation. One of my faves now ! Happy Drinking all.

  8. JohnBrownEyes JohnBrownEyes says:

    *Also give the Twentieth Century cocktail a try, similar to the Corpse #2. Magnificent. (circa 1939)
    1 1/2 oz dry gin
    3/4 oz Lillet blanc
    3/4 oz white creme de cacao
    1/2 oz lemon juice

  9. Jay Jay says:

    John – the Twentieth Century is indeed lovely. I recipe I use contains slightly more gin, but it similar otherwise.

  10. Mamele Mamele says:

    My daughter made Corpse #2’s for everyone at my birthday party. Totally delicious and enjoyed by all. It reminds me somewhat of another classic favorite, a Sidecar (recipe can be found in an early version of Joy of Cooking, of all places).

  11. An Almost Manhattan to Chase Away the Sunday Blues « Comestibles says:

    [...] for Marble Hill which contains gin, Dubonnet and orange juice. But I say if there can be multiple Corpse Revivers then there can be multiple Marble Hills too, so here’s [...]

  12. Frontier Mixology, Vol. 15: Antifogmatics, Moustache Twisters, and Corpse Revivers « Frontier Psychiatrist says:

    [...] drink for people getting into cocktails.  The Corpse Reviver was a class of drinks, and there were many variations, some sources listing three or more.  There is no question, however, about which variation to [...]

  13. Nick Nick says:

    I have to go against the grain somewhat here and state a long held preference for the #1 Corpse Reviver. #2 for me is so rarely made well but even when it is made well the complexity is a touch disjointed. Adding the smallest pinch of salt before mixing creates a much more harmonious drink I find.

    However I completely agree that drinking #1 before 7pm verges on the plain psychotic. It’s heavy, not too dry, balanced and simple, a great alternative to a martini.

  14. dining niblets — it’s christmas time in the city edition « Culinaria Eugenius says:

    [...] coffee, crab, grilled octopus, oysters and bacon…Justin at Belly is serving up scrumptious Corpse Reviver #2s with more than a hint of bitter orange peel.  Or something bitter. Or maybe it’s just [...]

  15. Corps Reviver #2. Ein Totgesagter feiert Wiederauferstehung. says:

    [...] Hepburns Worten, dem Cocktail-Enthusiasten hinter, zu sagen, der sich 2008 ausführlich der Corps Reviver Kategorie näherte: „This drink, [...] really reminds me of what cocktails are all about – [...]

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