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The Corpse Reviver Gin Cocktail

Exploring the History and Ingredients of a Classic Gin Cocktail

 One of the most incredible things about drink history is that it seems very memetic. It can be highly regional, with the same drink having different stories depending on who (and where) you ask. 

The Viral Concept of the Corpse Reviver Gin Cocktail

The Corpse Reviver Gin cocktail is one of the first drink concepts to go viral, and its curious history can be traced back to Piccadilly Circus. It’s a drink that was considered American before it even reached America. 

The History of the Corpse Reviver Gin Cocktail

Being an American invention, the cocktail and the cocktail bar have been reinvented worldwide. England led this movement, and many establishments were born as the English vision of stateside drinking culture. These places were distinctly different from the traditional public houses. Ironically, the drink was unknown stateside until its publication in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book in the 1930s. It gained popularity in the mid-Aughts when drink historian Ted Haigh included it in his book on lost and vintage cocktails. The Corpse Reviver was a concept before an actual single drink: it was applied to any hair of the dog” beverage and meant to liven the dull senses after a night of, well, drinking. Any cocktail that was thought to be American style or associated with the “morning after” possibly was known as a Corpse Reviver Gin Cocktail. 

Fittingly, its most famous version (corpse reviver number 2) is made with the darling of all spirits and the center of our cocktail universe, London Dry Gin. Its ingredients are some that we have discussed previously, a couple that we know well, and one that has been as legendary and infamous as gin- absinthe. 

The Ingredients of the Corpse Reviver Gin Cocktail

Absinthe: This controversial liquid, my research finds, is fundamentally akin to our gin. Absinthe is a neutral grain spirit infused with a species of wormwood and aniseed. Other botanicals are included to round out the blend. There’s no sugar added to the preparation, so it’s not a liqueur but an aperitif spirit. As with so many of our most heralded spirits, its origins lie in being used as a medicinal tonic. Wormwood has been used for digestive health since the ancient Egyptians, and formulas prepared with aniseed can be traced to 17th-century Europe. Its taste is pleasing, and the French Army kept it well stocked on missions, giving it a patriotic and warrior appeal. 

First infused with brandy (made from grapes), the 19th century saw a move to spirits distilled from beet sugar, significantly reducing the price and bringing it within reach of the working class. 

As prices reduced, demand increased, and inferior absinthe was produced using copper arsenate to give its famous green tint. Just so we are clear, copper arsenate is poison. The poison makes folks sick. The wine industry and temperance zealots engaged in a decades-long campaign against absinthe based on false science, and this led to its international ban in the early 20th century. 

Myths about its hallucinogenic properties helped further demonize the liquid. 

Cointreau is part of the divine orange liqueur trinity and is the world’s most famous and premium triple sec. The award-winning formula results from months-long aging of sweet orange peels and a second infusion of dried bitter orange peels in water and beet sugar spirit. I suggest having it on hand as there are many alternatives but no proper substitute. 

Lillet is the tonic wine we have used together in our ginspired activities, and its use in this particular cocktail confirms the great Anglo-Franco beverage-based connection. 

The What Behind the When

The drink is easy to execute, and its ingredients are significant to our gin drink canon. Equal parts Highclere Castle Gin, fresh lemon juice, Cointreau (famous in our White Lady cocktail as made by Luis, head butler at the Castle), and Lillet Blanc (the tonic aperitif wine used in the Vesper Martini. See last week’s post). As for the absinthe, it is the smallest component but plays an integral role in the flavors. This introduces us to the technique of the “wash.” 

Corpse Reviver No. 2 Gin Cocktail 

Glassware-Martini Glass or Coupe Technique-

Pour about a half ounce of absinthe into the martini glass and add ice. Set to the side. The absinthe will become cloudy as the ice melts, serving as a nice little visual while the cocktail is being prepared. 

To a Boston shaker without ice, add the following: 

  • 1 oz Lillet Blanc 

Add ice and shake vigorously until the shaker is lightly frosted on the outside. 

Absinthe Wash

The martini glass should be about ¾ full of our ice and absinthe mixture. With a mixing spoon, stir the liquid slowly to coat the inside of the glass, and then discard. 

  • Double-strain the cocktail into a glass. 
  • Express the oils of a large orange swath over the drink. 

Optional: The orange peel looks lovely inside the drink or curled over the rim, though it may add a touch of bitterness.