If you have never given thought to a morning cocktail—well, perhaps you have never felt hungover, but I won’t go there—you might want to take it under advisement that Queen Elizabeth II enjoyed one every day. You read that correctly; each and every day, the Queen had an alcoholic drink before lunch. Oh, those wild and crazy royals!
I had read a few years ago that the prim and proper monarch was a bit of a party girl behind closed palace doors, knocking back several drinks in a day, to the point that she would even have been considered a “binge drinker” by U.K. health standards. Not that anyone would dare tell her that, mind you. Not anyone except her doctor, who advised her last year to lay off the booze in order to be strong enough to participate in all of her Platinum Jubilee activities. As the royal rumor mill spins it, she was pretty annoyed about this (I feel you, Your Majesty), but she complied with doctor’s orders.
Say what you will about her drinking habits, at least the Queen paced herself, and her taste in tipple was broad and varied. By various accounts, it is confirmed that she enjoyed a dry martini in the evening and a glass of champagne as a nightcap. At dinner, and sometimes at lunch, she sipped a glass of sweet German wine. And before lunch, this one. The Dubonnet and gin cocktail is little more than the name implies. Stir the two together with a slice of lemon and ice, and then strain it over new ice with a fresh slice of lemon. But what exactly is Dubonnet?
When my iPhone news app interrupted my workday yesterday with the announcement of Queen Elizabeth’s death, I decided for no good reason that I should do something to honor her on Comfort du Jour, and the quickest way to do so would be to whip up the Queen’s favorite cocktail—only, it proved to be a bit more complicated than that because I needed to find the proper ingredients, in particular, the Dubonnet.
First of all, Dubonnet is not a liquor, but a fortified wine. That meant I would not find it in one of our state-run “ABC” stores. My best shot would be a well-stocked wine store. The Queen would have had access to the spirit made in France by Pernod, but I could only purchase the version made here in the States, by a distillery in Kentucky.
The online inventory checker on Total Wine’s website assured me the store had several bottles of Dubonnet in stock, so I planned to hustle across town to buy it before everyone else did. Sometimes, I imagine that other people have the same fervor as me when it comes to commemorating notable occasions with food and drink. Thankfully, given that you are still reading, there aren’t that many of us. I found the Dubonnet in aisle 7, right next to the sweet and dry vermouth that I purchase all the time. I honestly don’t know how I missed this lovely bottle before; it even has a beautiful tabby cat on the label. $15.49 later, I was back in the car and headed home.
Being the responsible blogger that I am, I tasted the Dubonnet on its own in order to describe it for anyone here who has not tried it. The inclusion of quinine led me to expect a bitterness in this high-ABV wine, but I found my first sip to be on the slightly sweet side, almost Lillet-like, and when the first vapor of it rose off the glass, it reminded me of Niagara grapes, though I can’t imagine Dubonnet, which was founded in France, would be using a native U.S. grape (if you aren’t sure what Niagara grapes taste like, just open a bottle of Welch’s white grape juice). No, this aperitif is a mashup of European (mostly) red grapes, spiffed up with herbs and spices for complexity. I’m certain it’s the Muscat that strikes a familiar aroma.
Only one thing left to do; I mapped a route to the nearest ABC store in search of Gordon’s London Dry, the Queen’s preferred gin. Our local liquor stores are pitifully under-stocked, so I didn’t expect I’d find what I was looking for and indeed, initially, I didn’t. The problem was, I was looking high, not low, so I didn’t notice at first the bottles of Gordon’s on the bottom shelf. It was in a plastic bottle, and about half the price of the gin brands I usually reach for. Please don’t take this as a slight to Her Majesty, but I was sure there must have been some mistake. I knew I had a bottle of Ford’s (also London Dry) at the house, the same one I love for my favorite martini, so couldn’t I just use that? But I have learned enough about mixology to know that the essences of gin can make or break a drink, so I went home to do more research last night about what makes Gordon’s gin the world’s best-selling London Dry gin and the perfect one to pair with Dubonnet.
The upshot is that Gordon’s is extremely juniper-forward, meaning it is crisp and clean without nuances of too many of the other botanicals. My Ford’s, though I love it, is not comparable in that sense, but I found that another brand I like, called Broker’s, fit the bill of being very juniper-forward. My martini-loving friend, David, turned me onto Broker’s a few years ago and I trusted it. As a bonus, Broker’s gin comes with a cute little hat on the cap, and it doesn’t get much more London-y than that.
My discovery, unfortunately, came to me after the ABC store was closed, so I had to go back this morning—to a different store in the county just south of us, which is several miles out of the way and well worth the trip, and finally, I had what I needed to make the Queen’s cocktail.
For the love of the crown, let’s make this drink!
Personally, I think this cocktail would be lovely served up, in a chilled coupe glass with an expertly designed twist of expressed lemon peel, but that is not how the Queen took hers. No, she poured it straight over ice, which reminds me of my own grandmother and the way she preferred her afternoon martini. So I paid my respects and made it the same, and also with Her Majesty’s 2:1 ratio; that is, 2 parts Dubonnet to 1 part gin.
I can taste why this drink was a favorite for Queen Elizabeth II, and also for her mom, The Queen Mother. It’s light, just sweet enough to be enjoyable, yet with a touch of bitter to spur the appetite.
There’s no question, I will not be imbibing with this drink as regularly as Her Majesty (doctor’s orders and all that jazz), and most definitely not in the morning, but I shall practice my curtsy and I’ll take it as my duty to raise a glass a few times during the next 10 days, as the world mourns the passing of the longest-serving monarch in U.K. history.
Long live the Queen!
Dubonnet & Gin Cocktail
- 1 1/2 oz. Dubonnet Rouge
- 3/4 oz. London Dry gin (something juniper-forward)
- 2 half moon slices fresh lemon
- Cocktail ice
- Measure Dubonnet Rouge and gin into a cocktail mixing glass (or shaker) with ice. Drop in one lemon slice.
- Stir (or shake) vigorously until the outside of the mixing container is cold and frosty.
- Strain over fresh ice and garnish with the second lemon slice
As a postscript, I have since learned (thanks to my pal, David) that Gordon’s London Dry is more than acceptable—it’s his go to, actually—so that would have been a good purchase. But buying the Broker’s does allow me to add to my hat collection. I started saving the hats during the pandemic and discovered they fit perfectly on my bitters bottles. The only thing I’m unsure about now is what will I do to use up the rest of this Dubonnet? 🙂