A few days ago a friend unexpectedly got me thinking about corpse reviver cocktails. You see I was looking for suggestions for some new drinks using Fernet Branca and he (admittedly in a half awake stupor) mentioned the Corpse Reviver #2. Now as any cocktail geek will know, the #2 doesn’t have Fernet in it, but between us we were pretty sure that one of the Corpse Reviver recipes did. And thus a small obsession with that family of drinks began!
Bartenders are often familiar with Corpse Revivers #1 and #2 from The Savoy and their famous Cocktail Book, as these are generally considered to be the first listed examples of this family of drinks, but from time to time people mention others. Within minutes of posting a few queries on Twitter and Facebook, suggestions came pouring in as to where I might find Corpse Reviver recipes listed in various cocktail books, but no one I talked to was clear about whether any of them were numbered or bore any resemblance to those from The Savoy. So my vague curiosity turned from an interest in finding a few recipes into a quest to list the Corpse Revivers in chronological order.
I should probably backtrack a little bit here and explain what a Corpse Reviver actually is. The name is highly evocative and relatively self-explanatory, as they are drinks designed to help you recover from the night before. It seems in days gone by that drinkers where made of pretty stern stuff, as they would stop into a bar for an ‘eye opener’ to get them back into gear for the day ahead. Sure we still have the trusty Bloody Mary, but it was commonplace once upon a time to have a stiff drink that would shock your system back into shape and get you going, hence the Corpse Reviver.
To call them a ‘family of drinks’ is perhaps an exaggeration; you see there are only a scattered handful of recipes dotted through cocktail books from the 1930’s onward that are named corpse reviver. In fact the few recipes that I’ve found generally have little in common with each other, but there’s something about the name Corpse Reviver that makes them very appealing. The only thing that links them is that they were designed to help you recover from your excesses of the previous evening. But for the sake of this exercise, I have ignored other ‘bracers’ and ‘eye brighteners’ and stuck only to those recipes that name themselves as Corpse Revivers.
My starting point was my first known reference to them, The Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930, where we find Corpse Revivers #1 and #2. The first is a brandy based concoction, laced with sweet vermouth that might help quiet your upset stomach while giving you a healthy dose of ‘hair of the dog’. The second is a favourite amongst bartenders and is probably the most enduring of the Corpse Revivers. Gin is combined with Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, Cointreau and a dash of absinthe, giving you not only a hit of alcohol but also sugar from the liqueur and the herbal benefits (allegedly) of absinthe. When properly made this is one of the finest cocktails I know.
After a great deal of digging and asking others to pour through their cocktail book collections, I came across a reference to not only the recipes above, but also a Corpse Reviver #3, in the 1934 book 1700 cocktails for the man behind the bar. This third Reviver calls for brandy, curacao and maraschino to be layered in the style of a pousse café, a very old-fashioned style of drink indeed. So now I had three recipes, all very different from each other but all intended to help jolt the drinker back into action.
Next I found a ‘Corpse Reviver Cocktail’ listed in my first edition Mr. Boston from 1935, which simply calls for apricot nectar to be shaken with Calvados and sweet vermouth and served in a cocktail glass. Once again this has little in common with its predecessors other than its name. Still, with four recipes found it was starting to feel like there were enough recipes to consider the Corpse Reviver a family of drinks, rather than just an interesting name for a drink.
There was more to come though. In the 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book there is a Corpse Reviver listed made by combining brandy, lemon juice, orange juice and grenadine before topping it all off with champagne. A very different approach to settling the stomach and recharging the batteries, this however was the last reference I could find for several years, until mention of a further Reviver created at The Savoy.
In 1954 Joe Gilmore, the head bartender at The American Bar in The Savoy, created ‘The Savoy Corpse Reviver’, which I have on occasion heard referred to as the CR#4 (although I’m still unsure why?!). He combined brandy, Fernet Branca and white crème de menthe, serving it straight up. Presumably this gave you alcohol, sugars and the stomach settling qualities of a bitter digestif all in one glass… if you had the cast iron complexion to drink one in the first place that is! The original recipe called for equal parts of each liquid, although I have to say I prefer Pete Jeary’s spec of 45ml brandy, 30ml Fernet and 15ml white crème de menthe.
So that was six drinks found, and thanks to much digging by friends it looked as though I’d finally located the version that called for Fernet Branca too. Unfortunately though, my chats on facebook and Twitter were still yielding further results and so my exploration of the Corpse Reviver family was destined to continue a bit longer.
It was Adam Elmegirab who spotted another addition to this family of drinks in a later edition of The Official Mixers Manual by Patrick Duffy in 1956. In the earlier editions of this book the drink doesn’t seem to be mentioned, but in the ’56 edition there is a Corpse Reviver #3 listed which consists of lemon juice and Pernod in a highball over ice, topped with champagne. Another kill-or-cure style of drink in this strange and eccentric family!
I thought I had finally put an order to things when Adam decided to throw a further spanner into the works by pointing out a quote from a fairly modern book by William Grimes called Straight up or on the Rocks. In it he refers to a passage in an old book called ‘Cups and their Customs’ which has yet another mention of the Corpse Reviver. As this book pre-dates the Savoy Cocktail Book by quite some considerable time having been first printed in 1863, it seems that the idea of the Corpse Reviver has been around for around 150 years. Unfortunately no recipe is given in Cups and Their Customs, but William Grimes states that the drink did exist and was made of equal parts noyau, maraschino and Chartreuse, layered and that some 30 years after the publication of their book this drink could be found on menus in Paris. If this is true then the earliest reviver recipe would be this one, claimed to be in use commonly by around 1893.
So below is a rough timeline of the Corpse Revivers for anyone interested, with the addition of two modern drinks. The first is the infamous Corpse Reviver # blue created by Jacob Briars. Admittedly it is nothing more than a corpse reviver #2 but with blue curacao replacing the Cointreau, but it’s a blue drink and therefore deserves an honorable mention. The last in the list is the Corpse Reviver # ’12 named with a tip of the hat to the new year we’re starting, but also so as to leave room for a couple more recipes to surface that I haven’t yet found in my research!
1871 - see comments section below - Earliest(?) mention of a Corpse Reviver in a cocktail book - Brandy, maraschino and bitters - The Gentleman's Table Guide
1893 - Early Corpse Reviver – layered Noyau, maraschino and yellow Chartreuse
1904 - See comments below - layers made up of your selection of any of the following 15 ingredients - grenadine, cassis, anisette, curaçao, maraschino, menthe verte, menthe blanche, fraisette, prunelle, kummel, cherry brandy, yellow chartreuse, kummel Wolfschmidt, green chartreuse, kirsch -by Frank P. Newman
1930 - Corpse Reviver #1 – 2 parts brandy, 1 part calvados, 1 part Italian vermouth – shaken and strained into a cocktail glass. Note ‘To be taken before 11am, or whenever steam and energy are needed’ – The Savoy Cocktail Book
- Corpse Reviver #2 – equal parts dry gin, Cointreau, Kina Lillet, lemon juice with a dash of absinthe, shaken and strained into a cocktail glass. Note ‘Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.’ – The Savoy Cocktail Book
1934 - Corpse Reviver #3 – equal parts brandy, curacao and maraschino, layered in the style of a pousse café. – 1700 cocktails for the man behind the bar
1935 - Corpse Reviver Cocktail – 2 parts Old Mr. Boston apricot nectar, 1 part Calvados, 1 part sweet vermouth, shaken and strained into a cocktail glass
1937 - Corpse Reviver – equal measures of brandy, orange juice and lemon juice with 2 dashes of grenadine, shaken and poured into a claret glass, then topped with champagne. – The Café Royal Cocktail Book
1954 - Savoy Corpse Reviver – equal parts brandy, Fernet Branca and white crème de menthe, shaken and strained into a cocktail glass. – The American bar at The Savoy Hotel
1956 - Corpse Reviver #3 [sic] – juice of ¼ of a lemon, 1 jigger of Pernod in a highball glass filled with cubed ice and topped with champagne – Official Mixer’s Manual 1956 edition
2007 - Corpse Reviver #blue – equal parts gin, Lillet blanc, blue curacao and lemon juice shaken with 2 dashes of absinthe and served straight up. – Jacob Briars
2012 – Corpse Reviver # ’12 – 50ml Banks 5 Island rum, 25ml coffee infused Noilly Prat, 10ml maraschino, 2 dashes Fernet Branca, stirred and served in a coupe with a coffee bean garnish. – Dan Priseman, bitters&twisted
I’m sure there are recipes that I haven’t uncovered yet, so if you happen to know one please get in touch so that it can be added to the list. Personally I’ve never been brave enough to try one of these drinks in the way they were intended, on the morning of a hangover, but maybe the next time I over indulge I’ll give one a go.
As for that final recipe on the list, here are the instructions in full for you. The idea was to deliver an easy to drink, morning after cocktail that would give you some sugar and caffeine for energy, a touch of herbal bitters to settle your stomach and a good kick of booze as hair of the dog that bit you! I hope you enjoy it!
50ml Banks 5 Island Rum
25ml coffee infused Noilly Prat*
10ml Maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Fernet Branca
Stir all ingredients with plenty of cubed ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass, before garnishing with a coffee bean.
* to make coffee infused dry vermouth add 15 lightly crushed espresso roast coffee beans to 200ml of Noilly Prat in a sealed jar. Shake well every so often and allow to infuse for between three and four hours. You are aiming for a light taste and aroma of coffee without letting it become over infused and bitter to taste.
Special thanks to Sean Ware, Adam Elmegirab, Craig Harper and Jeff Mason for their help in uncovering corpse reviver recipes.