Friday, April 26, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Corpse Reviver #2

In which a fire that had not lost its spark is nonetheless rekindled.

Tackling the obvious question first: what happened to the Corpse Reviver #1? It was hushed up by a covert government agency in the wake of an unpleasant incident at a suburban Pittsburgh shopping mall in 1978. Obviously.

In truth there’s an entire brood of Corpse Revivers, all part of an unruly genus of cocktails. Call them what you like: the bracer, the eye-opener, the hair of the dog. Drinks meant to get you up and out following a night of being down and dirty. Corpse Reviver #1 (now declassified thanks to my Freedom of Information Act request) calls for Cognac, apple brandy and sweet vermouth, and there are a host of other formulae. But #2 has become the standard, to the extent that the number is often omitted. In the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), Harry Craddock famously warned that “four of them taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again.”

It’s a simple recipe, originally consisting of equal parts gin, Cointreau, lemon juice, and Lillet. Which brings us to our problem.

In 1986, Kina Lillet became Lillet Blanc. The new formulation of this French aperitif wine resulted in a product that was both less alcoholic and less bitter, the latter due in large part to the reduction of cinchona bark, a source of quinine. (This recalibration also necessitated a name change, Kina being a diminutive of quinquina.) It’s an all too common story in the cocktail kingdom, one I encountered firsthand while searching every arrondisement in Paris for a bottle of Amer Picon. When I finally scared up a bottle, I was told it was nothing compared to the old version; deep down, hardcore cocktail fanatics are like the eternally wistful Burt Lancaster in Atlantic City, saying the ocean was better in his day. Lillet Blanc was regularly used in place of its progenitor even though it tasted different, meaning that if you’ve been knocking back Vespers since Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale you have not experienced the cocktail Ian Fleming described.

Deliverance came from Italy in the form of Cocchi (pronounced co-key) Americano. This aperitivo, from the same people responsible for the Vermouth di Torino that has of late been elevating my Manhattans, reasonably approximates Kina Lillet. It’s as close as we’re going to get to recapturing lightning in a bottle. I’d always enjoyed a Corpse Reviver #2 made with Lillet Blanc. But substituting Cocchi Americano gives it a structure I’d never noticed it was lacking, the additional bitterness only augmenting the drink’s ebullience. It’s like meeting the cocktail again for the first time, and falling even harder for it.

This discovery will pay immediate dividends. The Corpse Reviver #2 is my go-to selection whenever I’m asked to play bartender at a summer party, to the extent that I even bought a mister. The strong citrus presence means it’s refreshing. Because it’s an equal parts drink you can prepare them by the pitcher, with one in the refrigerator in advance of your guests. When you have to make refills – and you will – everybody gets into the act, one partygoer juicing lemons while another prepares the glasses with absinthe (or Pernod). Try it yourself and tell me I’m wrong. The name may say Walking Dead, but for Mad Men season there’s nothing better.

The Corpse Reviver #2

¾ oz. gin
¾ oz. Cointreau
¾ oz. Cocchi Americano
¾ oz. lemon juice
dash of absinthe (or Pernod)

Shake. Strain into a glass rinsed or misted with absinthe (or Pernod). Garnish with a cherry.