Corpse Reviver cocktails - recipes & history

Words by Simon Difford

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As the name alludes, The Corpse Reviver is one of a category of 'pick-me-up' cocktails that were 'prescribed' by bar keeps of old to revive those souls that appeared in their bar feeling worse the wear from overindulgence in the same place the night before. Perhaps more a 'kill or cure' than 'a hangover cure', this category of cocktail emerged in the mid-1800s.

One of the earliest references to the Corpse Reviver appears in the 21st December 1861 edition of the English weekly satirical magazine Punch, or The London Charivari as one of a trio of such libations, "after liquoring up a Sling, a Stone Wall, and a Corpse-Reviver."

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page 247 Punch 21st December 1861

The first known written Corpse Reviver recipe appears in The Gentleman's Table Guide by E. Ricket and C. Thomas, published in 1871, which calls for equal parts brandy and maraschino with two dashes Boker's bitters.

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page 45 The Gentleman's Table Guide 1871

However, the reason you are reading about the Corpse Reviver today is due to its appearance in the revered 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book where Harry Craddock gives two recipes, Corpse Reviver No.1 "To be taken before 11am, or whenever steam and energy are needed", and Corpse Reviver No.2 where he stipulates "Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again".

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The Savoy Cocktail Book 1930

Both the Corpse Reviver No.1 and No.2 also appear in Patrick Gavin Duffy's 1956 Official Mixer's Manual, but interestingly Duffy's version of the Corpse Reviver No.2 substitutes Swedish Punsch for the Lillet. He also lists a Corpse Reviver No.3.

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page 128 Official Mixer's Manual 1940

The 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book Coronation-Edition lists three very different Corpse Reviver recipes.

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page 48 Café Royal Cocktail Book 1937

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page 76 Café Royal Cocktail Book 1937

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page 134 Café Royal Cocktail Book 1937

In London during the 2000s, a contemporary riff on the classic Corpse Reviver No.2, substituting Yellow Chartreuse in place of triple sec, emerged and for a while became perhaps more popular than the original.

For one of the most noted variations on the theme we return to The American Bar at The Savoy where, in 1954, one of Craddock's successors, Joe Gilmore, created Corpse Reviver with equal parts white crème de menthe, brandy and Fernet Branca.

Finally, no exploration of the Corpse Reviver is complete without mention of Jacob Briars' 2007 "blued" version of the classic cocktail, the Corpse Reviver No. Blue.

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