Friday, September 07, 2012

Cocktail of the Week: The Opera

Still have that bottle of Dubonnet Rouge from last week? You’re refrigerating it, aren’t you? Because it’s an aromatized wine, you know.

No sense letting it go to waste. There are any number of simple cocktails that exploit Dubonnet’s unique charms. The Bentley, for instance, pairs it with equal parts applejack and makes a solid after-dinner selection. Go with equal parts light rum instead, add Angostura bitters, and you have the Bushranger.

Gin, as mentioned, is the favored mixer with Dubonnet. The simplest combination is the aptly named Dubonnet cocktail (or, in some circles, the Zaza). Equal parts gin and Dubonnet. Lemon twist. Done. Add a dash of Pernod and it’s the Apparent. The variations are practically limitless.

A more complex drink that allows Dubonnet to take the spotlight is the Opera. Its origins, as is so often the case, remain murky. In David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, it doesn’t even contain gin but equal parts Dubonnet and white label rum, plus a dash of lime juice and an orange twist. His alternate, with gin instead of rum and maraschino in place of lime juice, is closer to the version served today. According to Jim Meehan’s The PDT Cocktail Book, the recipe as it originally appeared in Jacques Straub’s 1914 Drinks called for equal parts gin and Dubonnet plus “a splash of Crème de Mandarine;” Meehan’s contemporary variation goes heavier on the gin and replaces the last ingredient with Mandarin Napoleon and orange bitters.

I turned to the redoubtable Patrick Gavin Duffy and his Official Mixer’s Manual. He, too, tips the balance in favor of gin. Bear in mind that many bartenders will use half as much maraschino as Duffy suggests to reduce the sweetness, but I like the foundation it provides. Duffy also doesn’t use bitters, but that final element of citrus proves a lovely addition to the notes provided by the Dubonnet and the twist. The Opera has the kind of sophisticated flavor that may not rattle the rafters when it steps up for its aria, but it will ring down the curtain nicely.

The Opera

2 oz. gin
½ oz. Dubonnet
½ oz. maraschino
dash of orange bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist.