The Queen Elizabeth’s Real Drink: The Dubonnet Cocktail

I have to go for one more Queen Elizabeth drink, but this one isn’t actually called a Queen Elizabeth at all; it’s called a Dubonnet Cocktail or a Zaza in some circles, and most casual drinkers have probably never heard of it, much less tried it. According to all sources, both the Queen Mother and the current queen loved the Dubonnet Cocktail. They probably had it with more Dubonnet than I drink it, but here’s the recipe:

  • 1 1/2 oz Dubonnet
  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • twist of lemon

Pour ’em in a glass and stir, and put the twist of lemon on top. It makes for a classic drink, first invented sometime in the early 20th Century. Everyone who knows cocktails talks about it even though the regular Joe has never heard of it. Even Gary Regan has remade it with a flavored vodka instead of gin and named it the Tabby Cat. Some people recommend a bit of orange bitters with it.

What does it taste like? Well, it tastes like Dubonnet, which is a strange wine. Dubonnet is a very sweet wine with hints of Christmas. Its herbal flavors include a predominant bit of cinnamon and cloves, along with a slight bitter taste, which is most likely the quinine.

You see, Dubonnet was actually created in a response to the government need for quinine. According to this BBC magazine segment, “During the French conquest of North Africa in the 1830s, the authorities had offered rewards to anyone who could come up with a way of helping French Foreign Legionnaires drink quinine, which was used to combat malaria.” So Joseph Dubonnet created this apertif wine called Dubonnet.

It’s stock has been on the decline in recent years, and the drink is almost unknown at this point, but it’s worth reviving. Dubonnet has a place in cocktails, for sure, and I can imagine playing around with it at some point in the future, almost like an Amaro.

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