“A great Corpse Reviver should be refreshing yet delicate,” says Alicia Perry, general manager of San Diego’s Polite Provisions. Yet, that light touch doesn’t mean it’s a wimpy drink: “It should still pack a punch that should wake you up in the morning.”
Famed as an eye-opener brunch drink or hangover remedy, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is one of a pair by that name to debut in The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930. The No. 1 version (brandy, apple brandy and sweet vermouth) is usually passed over for the No. 2, beloved for its bracing quality as well as its equal-parts formula, traditionally a mix of gin, lemon juice, Cointreau and Lillet Blanc, accented with a dash of herbaceous absinthe.
For Perry’s take on the Corpse Reviver, which took top honors in PUNCH’s blind taste test, she strays slightly from the usual equal-parts template. The classic was “a bit too dry, a bit too astringent” for her personal taste. To remedy this, she adds a quarter-ounce of simple syrup to soften the overall effect, then nudges the gin component a little higher to compensate for the added sugar.
“Bumping up the gin to balance out the sweet—that was a moment for me when I knew I had something to be excited about,” she recalls. “This drink is all about balance.”
Finding the right proportion took just a few iterations. At first, Perry had tried increasing the amount of Cointreau to counter the drink’s astringency, but found it became too cloying, as the liqueur’s orange and honey notes took over. Adding the more neutral flavor of simple syrup did the trick, though it necessitated a stronger punch of alcohol. “I wanted the cocktail’s strength to remain intact,” she explains.
Although Beefeater is the well gin at Polite Provisions, she preferred Plymouth for her Corpse Reviver. “It accentuated light notes of honey and sweet orange to me,” she says. “It simply made the cocktail more enjoyable.”
Two additional details set her Corpse Reviver apart. First, instead of absinthe, Perry rinses the coupe glass with pastis. “I was exposed to it by an old bartender friend who happened to have a bottle at home,” she recalls. Compared to the wormwood bitterness she detects in absinthe, pastis offers warm spice notes that harmonize with lemon. “I get little notes of fennel and cardamom, which I don’t get from absinthe,” she notes.
As is typical, the drink is shaken and poured into the prepared glass. But it then receives the second distinguishing detail: lemon peel oils expressed over the top. She’s very specific about how that’s accomplished, instructing to hold it about six inches away from the coupe’s rim to add just a light touch to brighten the drink. “The oils are so delicate and refined,” Perry says. “It can change the cocktail in beautiful ways.” The same peel then adds visual appeal, draped over the edge of the glass.
“I know it doesn’t traditionally call for a garnish,” she acknowledges, but the citrusy aroma from the lemon peel is revitalizing—some might even say, corpse-reviving. “It all makes such a huge difference,” she says, “even if it’s as simple as a lemon twist.”