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Brown Derby Cocktail Recipe

Easy to craft and a pleasure to imbibe, the Brown Derby cocktail is ideal for a lazy brunch or a cosy night by the fire. Our addition of maple syrup makes this prohibition cocktail simply impossible to resist.

The Brown Derby cocktail is our new favorite bourbon cocktail.

Granted, we say this almost every time we craft a new-to-us bourbon recipe. But there’s something special about this three-ingredient tipple that makes it better than other bourbon cocktails.

Is the cocktail better because we replace honey syrup with maple syrup? We don’t know. We just like it.

What Is a Brown Derby Cocktail?

Brown Derby Cocktail with Black Background
This Brown Derby cocktail looked good enough to drink.

The classic Brown Derby cocktail is a sour cocktail crafted with just three ingredients – bourbon, honey syrup and grapefruit juice. As noted above, our recipe replaces the honey syrup with maple syrup.

Brown Derby Cocktail with Black Background from Above
It also looked good from above.

Regardless of the syrup choice, it’s an incredibly easy cocktail to craft with pantry ingredients and basic bar tools. It’s equally easy to imbibe with flavors that are simultaneously sweet and sour.

History of the Brown Derby Cocktail

Brown Derby Cocktail on Lisbon Terrace
We took this Brown Derby cocktail outside while we contemplated its debatable history.

The history of the Brown Derby cocktail is unclear.

In his book The Craft of the Cocktail, Dale DeGroff attributes the Brown Derby’s creation to bartenders at Hollywood’s Vendôme Club. DeGroff’s theory is that the bourbon drink was named after the Brown Derby, the now-closed Los Angeles restaurant that invented the Cobb Salad, during the 1930s.

However, Harry Craddock included an almost identical cocktail called the De Rigeur in his The Savoy Cocktail Book. Craddock published the iconic cocktail manual in 1933.

Brown Derby Cocktail Ingredients

Brown Derby Cocktail Ingredients
The only ingredients required in our Brown Derby recipe are maple syrup, bourbon, a grapefruit and ice cubes (not pictured).

The ingredient list for our Brown Derby cocktail recipe is so short that you can count them with the fingers on one hand.

  • Bourbon
  • Fresh Grapefruit Juice
  • Grade A Maple Syrup
  • Grapefruit Peel
  • Small Ice Cubes

You probably have all of these items in your pantry and home bar. If not, you can buy any missing items at a local market.


Bottle of Four Roses Bourbon
Kentucky’s Four Roses Bourbon is our preferred bourbon in this and other bourbon recipes.

Selecting the right liquor is a priority when you craft a simple cocktail. We choose to use Four Roses bourbon in our Brown Derby recipe.

Four Roses is a great cocktail bourbon since its balanced flavors are relatively mild with hints of both vanilla and caramel. It’s also one of the more affordable bourbons produced in Kentucky and has a 40% ABV, the lowest possible ABV for Kentucky bourbon.

Discover our favorite bourbon cocktails.

Maple Syrup

Canadian Maple Syrup in Bottle
Grade A maple syrup adds the perfect touch to our Brown Derby cocktail recipe. We bought this bottle at a local grocery store.

Typically produced in Vermont and Canada, maple syrup is a product usually served with pancakes, french toast and waffles. We sometimes use the sweet elixir when we cook bacon. In a culinary twist of fate, the natural sweetener is a great cocktail ingredient too.

We like to use amber Grade A maple syrup when we craft Brown Derby cocktails at home. The distinct syrup achieves a rich flavor that we adore. Canadian cities like Montreal sell maple syrup in cans at local markets. In Lisbon, we can buy Canadian maple syrup at a nearby grocery store.

Buy a bottle of amber Grade A maple syrup from Amazon if you don’t have any in your pantry.


Grapefruit Sliced in Half
A fresh grapefruit adds both color and tart flavor to our Brown Derby cocktail recipe.

While you could technically use grocery store grapefruit juice in this and other cocktail recipes, using fresh grapefruit juice is worth the extra effort. As a bonus, you only need to squeeze one grapefruit to craft two drinks.

It literally took us less than a minute to extract the juice from this grapefruit using our Braun juicer. We also made a grapefruit twist from the skin of the same fruit.

How To Craft a Brown Derby Cocktail

Brown Derby Cocktail Mise en Place
We were easily able to fit our Brown Derby mise en place on a small cutting board.

Our Brown Derby recipe only has a few ingredients and doesn’t require any special tools or equipment. We used the following items to craft this Brown Derby cocktail:

Discover 10 essential bar tools for home mixologists.

The first step is to measure the three liquid ingredients. We like to use a Japanese jigger to ensure accurate measurements and to minimize spillage. We also like using a small angled measuring cup for these same reasons.

Buy a Japanese jigger from Amazon if you don’t have a jigger or are interested in an inexpensive upgrade.

Measuring Bourbon for Brown Derby Cocktail
For this recipe, we used a Japanese jigger to measure the bourbon and maple syrup. To save time, we used a small angled measuring cup to measure the grapefruit juice.

You’ll want to pour the liquids directly into a shaker as you measure them. We like to use a Boston shaker since it is easy to use and quick to clean.

Buy a Boston Shaker from Amazon if you don’t have a cocktail shaker or want an inexpensive upgrade.

Pouring Bourbon into Brown Derby Cocktail
Immediately pouring the liquids into a shaker is the most efficient way to concoct this and other cocktail recipes.

Add a couple hand fulls of small ice cubes to the shaker.

Adding Ice to Brown Derby Cocktail Shaker
We pulled ice out of the freezer to make our Brown Derby Cocktail.

Shake the liquids until they’re chilled and mixed – approximately 20 seconds.

Fun Fact
The shaking step is the most difficult step of this recipe. It’s also the most fun.

Mindi Shakes a Brown Derby Cocktail
Mindi loves shaking up bourbon cocktails.

Strain the shaken mixture into an empty coupe glass.

Buy coupe glasses from Amazon if you want a matching set.

Straining Brown Derby Cocktail
Straining the cocktail means it’s almost time to drink. Hooray!

Gently rub a grapefruit peel slice around the rim of the coupe glass to enhance the cocktail’s flavor and aroma.

Expressing Grapefruit Peel on Brown Derby Cocktail
Expressing the glass is an optional but recommended step that only takes a few seconds.

Drop the grapefruit peel slice into the glass or place it on the rim.

Adding Grapefruit Peel to Brown Derby Cocktail
We chose to cut and twist this grapefruit peel. What you do with your grapefruit peel is up to you.

Sip and enjoy.

Brown Derby Cocktail Variations

Daryl Drinks a Brown Derby Cocktail on Lisbon Terrace
Daryl eyes were almost as big as his Brown Derby cocktail.

You’re correct if you think that the our Brown Derby cocktail recipe is both easy and delightful. The same goes for the following variations that you can try if you’re missing any of this cocktail’s three ingredients:

  • Replace the maple syrup with honey syrup. It’s the classic way to go.
  • Replace the bourbon with rye whiskey to craft a smokier Brown Derby cocktail.
  • Replace the grapefruit juice with lemon juice and the maple syrup with honey syrup to craft a Gold Rush cocktail.
  • Replace the grapefruit juice with orange juice to craft a Maple Bourbon Smash cocktail.
  • Replace the grapefruit juice with lemon juice and the maple syrup with simple syrup to craft a Whiskey Sour cocktail
  • Use the the leftover grapefruit juice to craft a Hemingway Daiquiri cocktail.

Brown Derby Cocktail FAQs

What is a Brown Derby cocktail?

The traditional Brown Derby is a sour cocktail crafted with just three ingredients – bourbon, honey syrup and grapefruit juice. Some recipes replace the honey with maple syrup.

Where was the Brown Derby invented?

It was possibly invented in Los Angeles but the history of the Brown Derby is unclear.

What are the ingredients in a Brown Derby cocktail?

Bourbon, Fresh Grapefruit Juice, Honey or Grade A Maple Syrup, Grapefruit Peel and Small Ice Cubes

Is the Brown Derby shaken or stirred?

The Brown Derby is shaken, not stirred.

What type of glass is best for the Brown Derby?

We like to serve this cocktail in a coupe glass but you could use a small martini glass instead.

Brown Derby Cocktail Recipe

Brown Derby Cocktail with White Background

Brown Derby Cocktail

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

Learn how to craft a tasty Brown Derby cocktail at home in just five minutes.


  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce maple syrup, grade A amber
  • 1 ounce grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
  • Small ice cubes
  • Grapefruit peel


    1. Measure bourbon, maple syrup and grapefruit juice and pour each into a shaker.
    2. Add small ice cubes and shake until the liquids are mixed and chilled - approximately 20 seconds.
    3. Strain the liquid into a coupe glass.
    4. Express the glass with a grapefruit peel slice before adding it as garnish.


  • You can use honey syrup instead of maple syrup.
  • You can use a lowball glass instead of a coupe glass. If you make this switch, be sure to drop a large ice cube into the glass before you strain the cocktail into the glass.

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About the Authors

About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.


Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

We purchased the ingredients and tools used to craft this cocktail.

Original Publication Date: September 13, 2022

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