Many of the cocktail ingredients we know today began as medicines of one sort or another. Dubonnet began as a way to make medicine palatable.
Quinine is a very bitter substance originally extracted from tree bark that was used as a malaria preventative and cure. It is most famously found in tonic water, but it shows up in several wines and spirits as well.
Dubonnet was developed as a way to make quinine more palatable to French Foreign Legion soldiers in North Africa. It is an aperitif wine also belonging to the family of beverages called quinquinas, named for the quinine. It is a fortified wine with added ingredients like herbs, spices, and citrus peel, and is fairly similar to sweet vermouth.
I prefer to further fortify this fortified wine into a fully-formed cocktail. Below is the traditional recipe for the Dubonnet Cocktail that tastes a bit a like deep red wine with winter flavors.
You can reduce the amount of gin in the cocktail down to a third of the amount of Dubonnet for a lower-alcohol version of the drink. I often drink it this way, because with a lighter drink I can have two of them.
I’m not sure if Dubonnet still contains enough quinine to prevent malaria, but since I’ve been drinking it I haven’t caught it once.
1.5 fl. oz. Dubonnet Rouge
1.5 fl. oz. Gin
1 dash orange bitters (optional)
Lemon twist for garnish
Shake liquid ingredients with ice and serve on the rocks or up in a cocktail glass. Pinch the lemon peel to express its oils into the glass and drop the peel in the drink.