As we’ve often discussed, one of the major tricks of the craft cocktail movement is to rescue old liqueurs with unique flavor profiles and reuse them to create something new. Usually, we’re talking about something with a bitter taste; while historically, the Western world has had quite a sweet tooth, refined drinkers have long preferred less saccharine tastes, and many of the more complex liqueurs available reflect this. (These dryer tipples would traditionally have been developed as aperitifs, or before-dinner drinks; anything with too much sugar would be regarded as an appetite killer. Conversely, by that logic, any sweet liqueur, like Grand Marnier, Chambord, or Frangelico, would be an after-dinner drink.)
Consider Dubonnet, an aperitif wine that, at first glance, resembles sweet vermouth, but winds up reading much differently in cocktails. Like sweet (and dry) vermouths, Dubonnet is a fortified wine flavored with a blend of herbs and botanicals; unlike vermouth, Dubonnet takes much of its flavor from quinine, the same bitter compound that gives tonic water its bite. Read up a bit on the link above and you’ll see that both tonic water and Dubonnet were developed to convince legionnaires to drink quinine, as it is an anti-malarial. (With the added citrus garnish, the cocktails helped fight scurvy, too. Who knew drinking could be so good for the health?)
All of these characteristics make Dubonnet particularly well-suited to use in gin-based cocktails, especially as a substitution for sweet vermouth — think old classics like the Negroni or Martinez. But today’s cocktail is a bit simpler, and has a much better pedigree — it’s Queen Elizabeth’s favorite before-lunch drink, a habit inherited from her mother. Serve it up with that factoid at your next daytime barbecue or (if you must) brunch party. (If you’re the type to throw brunch parties, you’re probably the type to have friends who will be impressed.) You want the original red Dubonnet, not the “blanc” vanilla or the “gold” orange variety.
1 oz. London dry gin
2 oz. Dubonnet Rouge
Cut a thin wheel of lemon, and place it at the bottom of a rocks glass; cover with crushed ice. Combine ingredients in glass and stir gently to combine. Drink with an approving, yet understated demeanor.