Brown Derby

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Cocktail History

The Brown Derby is a classic bourbon cocktail that was created in the 1930s at the Vendome Club, a social hangout owned by Hollywood Reporter founder Billy Wilkerson. It’s an American variation of the French De Rigueur, another classic cocktail, and is traditionally made using the sour formula with just three ingredients—bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey. Its name comes from the hat-shaped restaurant that used to be on Sunset Boulevard.

Cocktail Ingredients

To make this cocktail, you’ll need the following ingredients:

Bourbon: This is the base spirit. We chose Buffalo Trace Distillery Eagle Rare Bourbon for its bold and dry taste with notes of candied almonds and cocoa.

Grapefruit Juice: This adds tangy citrus flavors for balance. We prefer to use fresh citrus juice because it’s less bitter than the bottled stuff and tastes better.

Honey Syrup: This is a sweetener that adds honey flavor. We made ours using Alex’s simple recipe.

Grapefruit Twist: This is the garnish. It adds fresh grapefruit aroma and flavor.

Tasting Notes

The Brown Derby begins with aromas of grapefruit, has a deliciously thick mouthfeel containing the sweet notes of bourbon and honey, and finishes with a bit of spice on the tongue and a distinct lingering honey sweetness. The grapefruit is the perfect citrus for this recipe because it isn’t sharp or bitter enough to leave an impression of its own and instead provides a backdrop for the sweeter flavors to work off.

Our Opinion of This Cocktail Recipe: We both much preferred this American-made variation over the De Rigueur; the bourbon and honey work so well together. We could definitely picture ourselves enjoying a few with the Golden Age Greats.

Alex’s Take: “I made a Brown Derby after we tasted the De Rigueur last year, but I didn’t really like it all that much. I believe I was making a 1:1 honey syrup at that time. Plus I didn’t really love the really subtle grapefruit sweetness with the other two flavors, rather than the loud citric flavor you’d get from a lemon. Sitting down to write a thought out tasting profile this time did help me appreciate and actually really like this drink though. The stronger honey flavor of the 2:1 syrup I used here really helped, and I found that letting the drink sit in your mouth a few extra seconds so the flavors mingle really brought them all out.”

Kendall’s Take: “I had never tried a Brown Derby before this tasting but had tried the De Rigueur. I remember not liking that one at all, mostly because I don’t like the taste of Scotch. Because the Brown Derby is made with bourbon though, I found it to be a lot easier to drink, especially since it’s sweetened by the grapefruit juice and honey. I would make this again. It’s a great recipe for someone like me who wants to appreciate the taste of bourbon without it burning the back of your throat; this drink is well-balanced so you only feel a hint of the burn as you’re swallowing.”

Recipe

This cocktail recipe was adapted from The Essential Cocktail Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Drinks by the editors of PUNCH and Megan Krigbaum.

AuthorThe Essential Cocktail BookPrep Time5 minsRating

Ingredients
 1 ½ oz Bourbon
 ¾ oz Grapefruit Juice
 1 Grapefruit Twist

Method
1

Add bourbon, grapefruit juice, honey syrup, and ice to a shaker.

2

Shake for 10-20 seconds.

3

Strain into a cocktail glass.

4

Garnish with grapefruit twist.

Ingredients

Ingredients
 1 ½ oz Bourbon
 ¾ oz Grapefruit Juice
 1 Grapefruit Twist

Directions

Method
1

Add bourbon, grapefruit juice, honey syrup, and ice to a shaker.

2

Shake for 10-20 seconds.

3

Strain into a cocktail glass.

4

Garnish with grapefruit twist.

Brown Derby

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More Whiskey Cocktails

If you like this whiskey cocktail recipe, here are a few others we’ve tried that you may enjoy:

Mountain Man: A bourbon cocktail made with lemon juice, peach liqueur, ginger syrup, maple syrup, and candied ginger

Falling Leaves: A rye cocktail made with Amaro Montenegro, toasted fig syrup, chocolate bitters, and an orange slice

Smashed Pumpkin: A bourbon cocktail made with lemon juice, pumpkin spice syrup, orange bitters, and an egg white

Iron Ranger: A whiskey cocktail made with pineapple juice, lemon juice, velvet falernum liqueur, cinnamon syrup, Angostura aromatic bitters, mint, and a cinnamon stick

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