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?
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.
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
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
The ingredient list for our Brown Derby cocktail recipe is so short that you can count them with the fingers on one hand.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Add a couple hand fulls of small ice cubes to the shaker.
Shake the liquids until they’re chilled and mixed – approximately 20 seconds.
The shaking step is the most difficult step of this recipe. It’s also the most fun.
Strain the shaken mixture into an empty coupe glass.
Buy coupe glasses from Amazon if you want a matching set.
Gently rub a grapefruit peel slice around the rim of the coupe glass to enhance the cocktail’s flavor and aroma.
Drop the grapefruit peel slice into the glass or place it on the rim.
Sip and enjoy.
Brown Derby Cocktail Variations
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:
Brown Derby Cocktail FAQs
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.
It was possibly invented in Los Angeles but the history of the Brown Derby is unclear.
Bourbon, Fresh Grapefruit Juice, Honey or Grade A Maple Syrup, Grapefruit Peel and Small Ice Cubes
The Brown Derby is shaken, not stirred.
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
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
- Measure bourbon, maple syrup and grapefruit juice and pour each into a shaker.
- Add small ice cubes and shake until the liquids are mixed and chilled - approximately 20 seconds.
- Strain the liquid into a coupe glass.
- 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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Japanese Jigger - Premium Double Cocktail Jigger, 1oz/2oz made from Stainless Steel 304
OXO SteeL Cocktail Strainer
Premium Cocktail Shaker Set: Two-Piece Pro Boston Shaker Set. Unweighted 18oz & Weighted 28oz Martini Drink Shaker made from Stainless Steel 304
Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler 3-Pack Red/Green/Yellow
Maple Grove Farms Organic Pure Maple Syrup, Grade A Amber, 8.5 Ounce
Riedel Veritas Coupe Glasses, Set of 2, Clear
BLACK+DECKER 32oz Citrus Juicer, White, CJ625
Wusthof CLASSIC Paring Knife, One Size, Black, Stainless Steel
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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.
Original Publication Date: September 13, 2022