Words by: Simon Difford
As the name alludes to, 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 over indulgence 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."
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.
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".
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 Duff's version of the Corpse Reviver No.2 substitutes Swedish Punsch for the Lillet. He also lists a Corpse Reviver No.3.
page 128 Official Mixer's Manual 1940
The 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book Coronation-Edition lists three very different Corpse Reviver recipes.
page 48 Café Royal Cocktail Book 1937
page 76 Café Royal Cocktail Book 1937
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 became perhaps more popular than the original.
For one of the most noted variations on the theme we return to 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.