A Corpse Reviver is more of a family of drinks than an actual drink. As a category, it includes any of many cocktails that have been used over the decades as a hangover cure or eye-opener, such as the Bloody Mary, the Michelada, and tiki favorites like the Zombie. The name Corpse Reviver goes back to the mid-1800s, but the most famous recipes that go by that moniker are the two that appear in Harry Craddock’s 1930 bar manual, The Savoy Cocktail Book.
Craddock’s recipe for the Corpse Reviver #1 uses 1.5 ounces of brandy or cognac, .75 ounces of calvados, and .75 ounces of sweet vermouth. All the ingredients are shaken over ice and strained into a glass. Calvados—a type of apple brandy made in Bordeaux, France—is what makes it interesting. There are a couple of brands available in Alabama and a few other varieties that you can find in neighboring states (not that we condone bootlegging liquor across state lines, of course). If you can’t find calvados, Laird’s Applejack can be subbed to provide apple flavor, but it will be slightly different animal. While they are similar products, calvados is more subtle. Applejack, though technically also an apple brandy, drinks more like a whiskey. For the cognac, we’re not partial to a brand, but wouldn’t use anything except VSOP or XO.
It’s a very tasty drink, but the Corpse Reviver #2 seems to show up more often on modern menus. It uses equal parts of gin, lemon juice, Cointreau, and Lillet Blanc, with a wash of absinthe in the glass. The original recipe calls for Kina Lillet instead of Lillet Blanc, but that product is no longer made, and most people seem to think Lillet Blanc is a reasonable substitute. Cointreau is mentioned by name in the book, but any dry curacao liqueur will work. The Pierre Ferrand dry curacao seems to be gaining currency of late.
In The Bartender’s Bible from 1991, Gary Regan lists a drink called the Corpse Reviver that has 1.5 ounces of brandy, 1 ounce of white crème de menthe, and .5 ounces of Fernet Branca. Brave souls that we are, we have tried this and found it not altogether horrible. In fact, we are drinking one right now. If, for some reason, you have white crème de menthe at your house, this is a decent way to get rid of some of it. Top it off with a lemon twist if you’re feeling fancy. It’s really a slightly more drinkable variation on an old-style highball called a Stinger, which just uses the brandy and crème de menthe. The bitterness of Fernet helps to balance it out and make the crème de menthe less cloying.
The internets contain a plethora of recipes laying claim to the name of Corpse Reviver #3. Some are variations on Regan’s recipe. Others are similar to the recipe for Corpse Reviver #2 but with some kind of substitute. For example, we found one that subs Swedish Punsch for Lillet (a terrible idea, if you ask us). Another uses lime juice instead of lemon. Still another uses brandy, Campari, triple sec, and lemon juice. There seems to be no limit. The lesson here is: It’s fine to come up with your own corpse reviver recipe, but please PLEASE come up with an original name for it.