Brown Derby Cocktail Recipe

The Brown Derby Cocktail is the cocktail equivalent of a crisp fall day — refreshing, balanced, a little sweet, and reddish brown in appearance. This perfectly balanced blend of tart grapefruit juice, sweet honey syrup, and syrupy bourbon hits all the spots you want from a sophisticated sip.

The Brown Derby Cocktail is a product of the Hollywood golden era. It was developed by the bartenders of Tinseltown's Vendôme Club (per Quartz), yet curiously named after a neighboring restaurant whose building was shaped like a brown derby hat. Both establishments were mainstays of the Hollywood strip and played host to many trendsetting stars and starlets. It is little surprise that this elegant cocktail survived to this day.

According to food blogger Ksenia Prints of international recipe blog At the Immigrant's Table, the beauty of the Brown Derby Cocktail is in its perfect position between two extremes: the bitter tartness of the grapefruit and the cloying sweetness of a bourbon cocktail. The two are tied together with an addition of the easy-to-make honey syrup, which serves as a surprising cocktail sweetener. With very little work, you can feel like Clark Gable by sipping on a bittersweet Brown Derby cocktail — bowler hat optional.

Gather the ingredients for this brown derby cocktail recipe

The list of ingredients for this cocktail is incredibly short and (mostly) sweet. You are going to need honey, water, bourbon, and a whole grapefruit.

Make honey syrup

Before making this cocktail, it's good to be prepared. Transfer martini or coupe glass to the freezer to chill or fill it with ice and let it stand in the fridge.

To make honey syrup, combine honey and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring betwee, until honey and water blend together seamlessly. This usually takes 1 minute of heating. Set honey syrup aside to cool.

You can also make honey syrup on the stovetop by combining honey and water in a saucepan and cooking it on medium heat until honey is fully dissolved. This method is best if you're making a large batch of honey syrup to use in several recipes.

Make a grapefruit twist

Cut a 1-inch thick grapefruit slice with the peel on and reserve the rest of the grapefruit for the juice. Cutting carefully with a paring knife, remove the flesh from inside the peel. Cut the peel in the middle, creating a long strip. Then, working carefully, scrape the pith off the inside of the peel — aim to keep a thin ribbon. Twist the peel around a straw and hold it for about 2 minutes until it mostly keeps its shape.

Squeeze out grapefruit juice

Squeeze the grapefruit to produce 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice. Reserve the rest of the juice for later.

Mix Brown Derby Cocktail

Add ½ ounce honey syrup, bourbon, and grapefruit juice into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well until fully combined.

Serve Brown Derby Cocktail

Pour the cocktail through a cocktail strainer into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Gently rub the grapefruit twist along the edge of the glass to extract its oils. Decorate the glass with the grapefruit twist.

Brown Derby Cocktail Recipe
5 from 19 ratings
Learn how to make this brown derby cocktail recipe that uses a surprisingly easy-to-make honey syrup as a sweetener to complement the grapefruit flavors.
Prep Time
5
minutes
Cook Time
2
minutes
Servings
1
serving
brown derby cocktail on tray
Total time: 7 minutes
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 ½ ounces bourbon
  • 1 grapefruit
Directions
  1. Transfer martini or coupe glass to the freezer to chill or fill it with ice and let it stand in the fridge.
  2. To make honey syrup, combine honey and water in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until honey and water blend together seamlessly. This usually takes 1 minute of heating. Set honey syrup aside to cool. You can also make honey syrup on the stovetop by combining honey and water in a saucepan and cooking it on medium heat until honey is fully dissolved. This method is best if you're making a large batch of honey syrup to use in several recipes.
  3. Prep grapefruit twist: Cut a 1-inch thick grapefruit slice with the peel on and reserve the rest of the grapefruit for the juice. Cutting carefully with a paring knife, remove the flesh from inside the peel. Cut the peel in the middle, creating a long strip. Then, working carefully, scrape the pith off the inside of the peel -- aim to keep a thin ribbon. Twist the peel around a straw and hold it for about 2 minutes, until it mostly keeps its shape.
  4. Squeeze the grapefruit to produce 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice.
  5. Add ½ ounce honey syrup, bourbon, and grapefruit juice into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  6. Shake well, until fully combined.
  7. Strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Gently rub the grapefruit twist along the edge of the glass to extract its oils. Decorate the glass with the grapefruit twist.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 311
Total Fat 0.2 g
Saturated Fat 0.0 g
Trans Fat 0.0
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 54.5 g
Dietary Fiber 2.7 g
Total Sugars 51.8 g
Sodium 2.9 mg
Protein 1.8 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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