Brown Derby Cocktail

5 from 1 vote
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The Brown Derby is one of my favorite classic bourbon cocktails. Made with bourbon, honey syrup, and fresh grapefruit juice, it’s smooth and citrusy with sweet notes of brown sugar and caramel.

A golden Brown Derby cocktail in a coupe glass garnished with a decorative grapefruit peel.

Whenever I have fresh grapefruit juice at my disposal, I always make a point to put some aside for this cocktail. This refreshing and citrusy cocktail always fits the bill regardless of the weather or occasion. While grapefruit has a reputation for being bitter, the honey helps balance and enhance the natural citrus flavor.

Brief History

The Brown Derby cocktail is believed to be named after the famous Brown Derby restaurant chain, which was popular in Los Angeles during the mid-20th century. The cocktail itself was created by bartending legend Dale DeGroff, at the Vendôme Club in Los Angeles, not far from the Brown Derby diner.

Also, use your freshly squeezed grapefruit juice to enjoy a grapefruit margarita or Hemingway Daiquiri!

Ingredients

Brown Derby cocktail ingredients laid out on a wooden cutting board.
  • Bourbon: my evergrowing list of favorite budget bourbons are Larceny, Elijah Craig, Four Roses Single Barrel, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, and Maker’s Mark.
  • Fresh grapefruit juice: I use pink grapefruits (or whatever you can find) and juice them by hand. A single grapefruit is good for a round of 4-5. I use this stainless steel juicer—it’s cheap and it works well.
  • Honey simple syrup: a 50-50 mix of honey and hot water (by weight). If you don’t have a kitchen scale, just measure out equal parts water and honey. See also the Gold Rush cocktail and the Bee’s Knees for more ways to use honey syrup!

Honey Syrup in the Microwave

Heat 1/2 cup of water in the microwave for 45 seconds until warm. Stir in 1/2 cup of honey until fully dissolved and golden brown. The proper consistency is a little thicker than water when at room temp. See also the Gold Rush cocktail and the Bee’s Knees for more ways to use honey syrup! Store in the fridge for up to one month.

While you can also do this on the stovetop in a saucepan, I find that the microwave method is quick and easy and does the trick!

How to Make a Brown Derby

Step 1.

Juice the grapefruit (image 1a). Combine bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup in a cocktail shaker with a large handful of ice (image 1b).

A hand using a handheld citrus juicer to juice a grapefruit.
Pouring bourbon into a cocktail shaker with a 2 ounce jigger.

Step 2.

Shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Double straining a Brown Derby cocktail into a chilled coupe glass.

Step 3.

Optionally slice the grapefruit peel into a fancy shape (image 3a). Express the oil from the grapefruit peel and garnish (image 3b).

A grapefruit peel on a wooden cutting board sliced into a trapezoid shaped cocktail garnish.
A Brown Derby cocktail served in a chilled coupe glass garnished with a grapefruit peel.

Expert Tips

  • Chill your glasses ahead of time in the freezer to keep your drinks cooler for longer. This is one of my favorite tricks in the summer.
  • This cocktail is best served in a small coupe glass.
  • Always double-strain shaken cocktails through a fine mesh strainer. This removes tiny ice chips that will dilute the cocktail as it warms.
  • Use a Y-peeler to grab some grapefruit peels before you cut or juice your grapefruits.

Frequently Asked Questions

What bourbons do you recommend for cocktails?

My evergrowing list of favorite budget bourbons are Larceny, Elijah Craig, Four Roses Single Barrel, Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, and Maker’s Mark.

More Bourbon Cocktails

Enjoy this recipe? If you made this cocktail, please leave a ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ star rating in the recipe card below & a review in the comments!
5 from 1 vote

Brown Derby Cocktail Recipe

Servings: 1 cocktail
Prep: 5 minutes
Total: 5 minutes
A citrusy whiskey-based cocktail with notes of brown sugar and grapefruit. The brown derby cocktail is made with bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup.

Ingredients 

  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 ounce honey simple syrup

Instructions 

  • Combine bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup in a cocktail shaker with a large handful of ice.
  • Shake vigorously for 15 seconds.
  • Optionally slice the grapefruit peel into a fancy shape. Express the oil from the grapefruit peel and garnish.

Notes

Chill your glasses ahead of time in the freezer to keep your drinks cooler for longer. This is one of my favorite tricks in the summer.
This cocktail is best served in a small coupe glass.
Always double-strain shaken cocktails through a fine mesh strainer. This removes tiny ice chips that will dilute the cocktail as it warms.
Use a Y-peeler to grab some grapefruit peels before you cut or juice your grapefruits.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cocktailCalories: 171kcalCarbohydrates: 19.3gProtein: 0.2gFiber: 0.3gSugar: 18g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Cocktail
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @kitchenswagger or tag #kitchenswagger!

About Shawn Williams

My name is Shawn, author behind Kitchen Swagger. I'm a food & drink enthusiast bringing you my own simple and delicious restaurant-inspired recipes.

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