With flavors on gin muted on the background, this drink is a perfect mixture that has a complex palate, filled citrus, botanical ingredients, and the light flavor of anise on the background. The Corpse Reviver is a “reviver” cocktail, or a drink meant to awaken and open the eyes, similar to a fizz. Other good examples include a Bloody Mary, a Bloody Caesar, or a Red Eye.
This drink has two well known variations, with the second version being much more well known thanks to the workings of Ted Haigh. Ted Haigh is known as “Doctor Cocktail” and resides in Los Angeles, California, who became well known thanks to the World Wide Web in the early 90s, and having had accumulated years of knowledge on cocktails thanks to attempts at acquiring antiquated books which started as a childhood obsession and interest of his (Haigh 13-14). His word and advice carries quite a bit of weight, and so a drink such as the Corpse Reviver had been revived thanks to efforts at bringing back classic cocktails.
A beautiful drink, the cocktail is an eye opener, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. A “reviver” cocktail, or an “eye opener” was a drink that was used to wake up a person, or lift their spirits (Ibid 95). A drink such a gin fizz is a perfect example; all fizzes were relatively light in alcohol content, but contained enough to uplift the imbiber. In the case of this drink, the complex taste, which is delicate but yet well structured, functions really well at uplifting the spirits while it is being quaffed. For instance, in 1914 in Rawling’s Book of Mixed Drinks, the gin fizz was described as a “cooling breeze from the sea;” the appearance of the term and concept of eye opening cocktails comes around the turn of the twentieth century (Wondrich 111; Haigh 95).
Such drinks were also known by the phrase, “hair of the dog” (Haigh 95). The term was originally literal, referring to the treatment of a rabid dog’s bite by placing the hair of the dog unto the wound; the metaphorical use of the term dates back to the late 16th century (Wikipedia). The metaphorical use refers specifically to drinks, and that one should imbibe the same spirit within 24 hours to soothe the nerves and prevent ill feeling effects from the alcohol (Ibid). The idea is similar to that of the Latin concept of similia similibus curantur, or that similar things cure one another; this concept apparently goes back all the way to Hippocrates (Ibid). However, we now know that a hangover is a result of specific biological processes, specifically linked to dehydration. Thus, just imbibe enough water, and all will end well.
The two major variations appear in the Savoy Cocktail Book, and both feature slight notations. The first variation, which is Italian vermouth, calvados and brandy, is written as a drink “to be taken before 11 a.m., or whenever steam and energy are needed” (Craddock 51). The other one, which is the variation given here, is equal parts of the liqueurs and spirit, and a dash of absinthe (Ibid 52). It was noted by Craddock that “four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again,” or in other words, he was pointing out that the large alcohol volume, while it will awaken the spirit, is rather dangerous and able to intoxicate the imbiber if not handled well (Ibid). It seems though, that the dash of absinthe overpowers the rest of the ingredients, making the anise dominate the palate and hiding the light flavors of the Lillet.
The absinthe, as Haigh does, should be added in small amounts, and to taste. The best way to do it, is to do some flamed absinthe over the drink, with only a few drops of absinthe in the drink, so as to leave it in a balanced form. The flamed absinthe gives it a nice aroma and fragrance, which goes well at preserving the majority of the flavor in the drink and not undermining the other ingredients. However, of course, this dominates the aroma, and so you have to play carefully on which sense you are trying to emphasize.
Honestly, I would not pair this drink with anything… but then again, that might be because of the complex nature of the drink. Something simple, that would not overpower the drink, would probably be best. The cocktail does have many various levels, and with something overly complicated, or overly sweet, will through the balance of this drink out of whack. I would say it is an aperitif, thanks to the balance, the sour notes, the botanicals, and the fact Lillet is an aperitif.
Furthermore, this drink is the perfect example of balance and why measuring ingredients is important. In a drink like this one, where the volume of ingredients are equal, a minute difference can throw the entire cocktail out of balance. Plus, depending on what ingredients you use will influence the taste: if you take Gran Gala or Grand Marnier and use it instead of Cointreau, the cocktail will have a slightly more deep flavor thanks to the brandy base, and a darker color. If you take a stronger gin, you might overwhelm the absinthe completely. Using low quality triple sec is only going to damage the cocktail overall, much more than in other drinks. And using fresh ingredients like lemon juice is important, so as to not allow the citrus to be washed out by the gin. In other words, this cocktail is a great example of why classic cocktail culture is so complicated and places quite a bit of emphasis on technique, but also palate.
Corpse Reviver, No. 2
3/4 ounce gin
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce Lillet Blanc
3 to 4 drops absinthe (or more to taste)
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake until chilled, strain into a glass. Garnish with a cherry.
CocktailDB: The Internet Cocktail Database. “Corpse Reviver No 2.” CocktailDB.com. http://www.cocktaildb.com/recipe_detail?id=581 (accessed March 28, 2010).
Craddock, Henry. 1999. The Savoy Cocktail Book. Originally published 1930. London: Pavilion Books.
Haigh, Ted. 2009. Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie and Beyond. Beverly, Massachusetts: Quarry Books.
Wikipedia contributors. “Hair of the dog.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_of_the_dog (accessed March 28, 2010).
Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.