Deconstructing a Classic – ‘Corpse Reviver’
Classic cocktails and their permutations are alive and well, making appearances on an ever-increasing number of cocktail lists.
This necessitates, in my opinion, an exploration of some of these ‘classics’ in greater detail. Should you happen to run across one or more of them in the course of your future recreational pursuits you will, by virtue of having engaged in this exploration, be armed with greater insight which may even lead to greater enjoyment.
Classic cocktail lore is filled with curiously named tipples like the ‘Golden Dawn’, the ‘Blood and Sand’, and the ‘Widow’s Kiss’. Certainly not least among these is the ‘Corpse Reviver’. At first glance, the ‘corpse’ reference might seem to render its associated libation a bit less appealing. However, allowing this impression to govern one’s opinion of the cocktail itself, although somewhat understandable, would be a misstep of grievous consequence. Chiefly, an individual governed by this apprehension would be deprived of experiencing a damned fine cocktail.
The Corpse Reviver of the 1870’s represented a family of cocktails more so than an individual one. This family of cocktails served a ‘Hair of the Dog’ function for over-indulgers of the time. In fact, its appearance in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) specified that it was, “to be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam or energy are needed.”
The original Corpse Reviver is an intriguing combination of three enigmatic liquids. The first of these, Crème de Noyaux, is essentially almond syrup, except that it has also been flavored and colored with apricot pits. The Pink Squirrel, one of Noyaux’s more famous applications, wouldn’t be pink without it.
The second element of the original Reviver is Maraschino liqueur. As was mentioned in a previous column, this liqueur bears no resemblance to the neon goo that bar cherries float in. Invented by Girolamo Luxardo in 1821 and still produced today according to his original formula, Maraschino liqueur is distilled from Marasca cherries and aged in Ash vats. Maraschino liqueur possesses fascinating depth and a unique, delicate floral note. It is somewhat difficult to come by but well worth the search. It is also the critical ingredient in the spectacular Papa Doble, or Hemingway Daiquiri.
Finally, Yellow Chartreuse, a milder, sweeter version of the famous Green Chartreuse, rounds out the original lineup. Chartreuse has been produced by Carthusian monks since 1737, and only two monks know the actual recipe. Another frequently misunderstood and/or misapplied liquid, Chartreuse waits patiently to reward the curious yet reverent cocktail adventurer with unparalleled richness and depth.
As Harry Craddock himself warned, “Four of these taken in swift succession will un-revive the corpse again.”
The 1870’s Corpse Reviver would have been produced as a layered drink, or ‘pousse-café’, employing equal parts of the aforementioned elements. In subsequent years, many variations of the Corpse Reviver were developed, although few survived the tragic Prohibition years. In fact, Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book lists the only two Revivers left standing at the time, neither of which bears much resemblance to the original. Craddock’s Corpse Reviver #1 combines two parts Brandy with one part each of Calvados and Sweet Vermouth. It is then to be shaken with ice and strained into a chilled cocktail glass.
It is the more intriguing Corpse Reviver #2 from Craddock’s to me that tends to be the preferred interpretation today.
The #2 retains the enigma displayed by its forebear, employing London Dry Gin, Cointreau, Lemon Juice, Lillet Blanc (known at the time as Kina Lillet – also one of the essential components of the original James Bond cocktail, the Vesper), and another frequently misused and misunderstood liquid, Absinthe. True Absinthe was banned in the US starting in 1912, well before the start of Prohibition, and remained so after its repeal. Because of its association with French artists and poets whose overindulgence reportedly drove them mad (Van Gogh’s ear-severing incident was famously blamed on Absinthe intoxication), early Temperance Movement devotees successfully implicated Absinthe in a host of social ills of the day, warning that it would lead to the downfall of society. The presence of the chemical Thujone, an element of the extract of wormwood which is used as a flavoring element in the production of Absinthe, was identified as the likely culprit. Studies discrediting these conclusions have since led to the recent legalization of true Absinthe in the US. Absinthe is a fascinating spirit with an amazing history and some very specific applications and techniques associated with it, so don’t be surprised to find a future column (or two) devoted entirely to the study of it.
As we’ve established, the Corpse Reviver #2 proposes a melding of very distinctive elements, and as such requires added care and attention to detail in its assembly. Let’s take a closer look at its constituent parts.
London Dry Gin
A typically un-aged grain spirit flavored with spices, aromatics and botanicals which typically include dried citrus peels and coriander seed, and must include Juniper berries. Juniper berries lend that hallmark ‘evergreen’ flavor profile that all Gins share in varying degrees, and that most London Dry Gins prominently display.
The Cadillac of Triple Secs, this sweet liqueur displays an abundance of orange flavor and sweetness within a neutral spirit base.
A wine-based aperitif first produced in 1872. White wines, fruit liqueurs and a hint of quinine combine
to create this rich,
An intense, high-proof liquor (not a liqueur, as no sugar is added during its production) flavored with herbs, spices, botanicals and aromatics, the most pronounced of these
Fresh Lemon Juice
An intense liquid, to be sure. Fresh Lemon and Lime juices must be treated with extra care when constructing cocktails, as the relationship between these elements and their sweet ingredient counterparts must be a balanced one. Achieving this balance can prove deceptively difficult.
CORPSE REVIVER #2
3/4 ounce London Dry Gin
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce Lillet blanc
3/4 ounce Fresh Lemon Juice
1 dash Absinthe
Combine in a shaker with cracked ice; shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a stemless cherry (optional).
Dan Crowell, cocktail enthusiast and self-avowed ‘spirits nerd’, is the Luxury Brands Specialist for Sterling Distributing Company in Omaha. He talks incessantly (even occasionally to other people) about the virtues of what he calls ‘investigative imbibement’. An eternally fascinated student of the distillers’ art, he encourages any like-minded individuals to engage him in spirited discussion at http://libationassociation.blogspot.com
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