The classic Brown Derby cocktail features bourbon, grapefruit juice and honey syrup. That trio of simple ingredients belies the complex taste of the drink, in which honey bridges the gap between tart citrus and spicy bourbon to produce an intricate combination that has stood the test of time.
According to the 2002 book The Craft of the Cocktail by bartending legend Dale DeGroff, the Brown Derby was created in the 1930s at the Vendôme Club in Los Angeles, and named for the hat-shaped diner that was located nearby. However, the cocktail’s origin gets a bit murky from there.
The Brown Derby appeared in the book Hollywood Cocktails, published in 1933. But it also appeared under a different name, the De Rigueur Cocktail, in British bartender Harry Craddock’s classic 1930 tome, The Savoy Cocktail Book. Did the former book steal the recipe from the latter and change its name? Were two similar drinks with the same recipe created independently by different people and given different names? It’s impossible to know for sure, but the Brown Derby eventually became the widely adopted name to refer to this sweet, tart, refreshing cocktail.
Click Play to See This Brown Derby Cocktail Come Together
1 1/2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 ounce honey syrup
Garnish: grapefruit twist
Add the bourbon, grapefruit juice and honey syrup into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Fine-strain into a cocktail glass.
Express the oil from a grapefruit twist over the drink and drop the twist into the drink to garnish.
What's the Difference Between Honey and Honey Syrup?
The Brown Derby is easy to make—you simply shake bourbon, grapefruit and honey syrup with ice. But it’s important to note that this recipe doesn't call for pure honey, but rather honey syrup, which is honey that's been thinned with water to make it more easily mixable in the cocktail. To create honey syrup, simply mix honey with an equal amount of warm water and stir until fully dissolved, then allow to cool.
If you end up making extra, the honey syrup will last for up to a month in the fridge, so you can keep some on hand for additional recipes.