Better than flowers for Mother’s Day
Dubonnet is a sweet-tasting, wine-based apéritif that contains a bit of quinine (more about that later). Dubonnet has an interesting flavor all by itself, but it really shines when mixed in a cocktail.
Though several drinks specify it as an ingredient, the eponymous Dubonnet Cocktail is the best of the breed. This drink’s bracing flavor makes it perfect for sipping before dinner (or as afternoon refreshment). It’s a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II (and was loved by the late Queen Mother, too).
With Mother’s Day coming up this Sunday in the US, why not pour a round of Dubonnet Cocktails? After all, it’s Queen Mum-approved for mothers everywhere.
Recipe: The Dubonnet Cocktail
Joseph Dubonnet created his signature apéritif in 1846, inspired by a French government competition to develop drinks containing quinine. The government wanted to encourage their legionnaires in North Africa to consume quinine (which helps combat malaria), but the soldiers shunned it because of the bitter taste. Government officials hoped to make quinine more appealing by incorporating it into a tasty alcoholic beverage.
Dubonnet contains only a small quantity of quinine—in addition to the various herbs and spices that create its characteristic flavor. The alcoholic content of Dubonnet is fairly low (it’s essentially fortified wine).
Dubonnet comes in rouge (red), blanc (white), and gold varieties, but it’s the red version you want for this cocktail. Good thing, too, because that’s the only version you’re likely to see at most liquor stores.
The recipe I describe below is the classic one for this cocktail. It specifies equal parts of Dubonnet and gin, and calls for the drink to be served “up” (chilled and in a cocktail glass). But many people prefer different ratios of Dubonnet to gin, and some even like to drink Dubonnet Cocktails on the rocks. More about all this in the Notes.
This recipe serves one, and takes about 5 minutes to make.
- 1½ ounces Dubonnet (the rouge—red—variety)
- 1½ ounces gin (use “London” dry gin; see Notes)
- a twist or slice of lemon for garnish (optional, but attractive and tasty)
- Place the Dubonnet and gin in a mixing glass that is half filled with ice. Stir vigorously until the ingredients are well chilled—this will take about 20 to 30 seconds.
- Strain the mixture into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist or slice, if desired. Serve.
- When a cocktail recipe specifies gin, it’s usually understood these days to mean London dry gin—which is also the type most commonly found in liquor stores. Any good name-brand dry gin will work well in this drink.
- In addition to London dry, you might see Dutch or Belgian gin (sometimes called jenever or genever), which is made from malt rather than grain. There’s also Old Tom Gin, which has a sweeter taste. Both of these varieties are less common than London dry.
- Why stir this drink rather than shake it? Because both the ingredients in it are clear liquids. Shaking forms oxygen bubbles, which give drinks a somewhat cloudy appearance. That’s no problem when you’re using opaque ingredients like citrus juice, but slightly unattractive when you’re serving a drink like this one, which should be crystal clear.
- As noted above, my recipe reflects the classic 1:1 ratio for a Dubonnet Cocktail (that is, equal parts Dubonnet and gin). But many people—reportedly including both the current queen and the late Queen Mother—prefer 2 parts Dubonnet to one part gin (a 2:1 ratio). Others prefer 1 part Dubonnet to 2 parts gin (a 1:2 ratio).
- The Queen also reportedly prefers her Dubonnet Cocktail served with ice rather than “up.”
- And if you’re drinking Dubonnet by itself, IMO it’s best served on the rocks, with a lemon twist.
- A drop or two of bitters can be a refreshing addition to the Dubonnet Cocktail.
- If you really like bitters in this drink, try a Dubonnet Royal: 2 parts Dubonnet, 1 part gin, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and 2 dashes orange curaçao (you can substitute Grand Marnier). Stir the mixture in an ice-filled glass, strain into a cocktail glass, and add a dash of absinthe on top (you can skip the absinthe, but it’s a nice touch). Many people garnish the Dubonnet Royal with a maraschino cherry.
- Because Dubonnet has a relatively low alcoholic content (19 percent, or 38 proof), I always store it in the refrigerator after I open a bottle (to retard oxidization). If you don’t refrigerate opened Dubonnet, it won’t necessarily go “bad,” but after a month or two its flavor won’t be as bright.
- Dubonnet wasn’t the only beverage created to combat malaria. The British developed tonic water, which also contains quinine. And to entice overseas troops to drink it, they usually mixed it with gin—thus giving rise to the Gin and Tonic.
À Votre Santé
“Bracing,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, sipping her Dubonnet Cocktail. “Love the crisp flavor.”
“It’s nice and light for a cocktail,” I said. “Not heavy or filling.”
“Plus it has the Queen Mother’s seal of approval,” said Mrs K R. “She lived to be 101, you know. So I’m going to bet this is an elixir of youth.”
“And don’t forget, it helps ward off malaria too,” I said.
“Important point,” agreed Mrs K R, polishing off her cocktail. “Never realized how much I could enjoy healthy living.”
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