The Brown Derby is one of those classic drinks that, for whatever reason, never earned the same illustrious status as many of its peers. According to legendary spirits and cocktail writer Dale DeGroff, in his book “The Craft of the Cocktail,” the Brown Derby was created sometime in the 1930s, though it’s unclear precisely where. It’s essentially a variation of a Whiskey Sour, with the recipe calling for grapefruit juice instead of lemon and honey or honey syrup instead of simple syrup. And though it’s not quite as popular as its contemporaries, it still crops up from time to time on cocktail lists, and is occasionally used as a template for playful tweaks. The Green Derby comes from bartending pro Lucinda Sterling, and utilizes a specific whiskey, as well as a few substitutions, to make a Rocky Mountain-inspired twist on the classic.
The base of the drink, and one that can’t be readily swapped out, is Tincup whiskey. It combines a high rye bourbon from Indiana with Colorado single malt, and is cut with Rocky Mountain water. It evokes the spirit of the Rocky Mountains and the miners that would drink whiskey from tin cups. The spirit of the Rockies is enhanced by substituting the Brown Derby’s usual honey syrup with Grade A maple syrup, a lighter, brighter style of syrup. As that can be overwhelming if used as a sweetener on its own, the drink also calls for an equal part of ginger syrup, which gives it an extra gingery kick.
Sterling doesn’t mess with the citrus juice, opting to keep the grapefruit juice rather than use any amount of lemon or lime. She does, however, add bitters to the drink, something the original lacks. Specifically, Sterling uses Orinoco Bitters from The Dead Rabbit, New York’s famed Irish bar. These aromatic bitters are made specially for the bar, but are available outside of New York via online markets and speciality stores. They help round the drink out for a juicy but bold and rich concoction.
- 2 ounces Tincup whiskey
- 3/4 ounce grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/2 ounce Grade A maple syrup
- 1/2 ounce ginger syrup
- 2 dashes The Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters
Add the Tincup whiskey, grapefruit juice, Grade A maple syrup, ginger syrup and The Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters to a shaker filled with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Double-strain into a coupe glass.