Brown Derby Cocktail Recipe

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Brown Derby Nutrition Facts






Created by

Nic Polotnianko

I fell in love with the art of mixology 6 years ago. Since then, I've honed my skills, crafting a myriad of cocktail recipes, and sharing my passion with other enthusiasts.

Last Updated: January 7, 2024


The Brown Derby cocktail is a classic cocktail that originated in the 1930s in Hollywood, California. It was named after the famous Brown Derby restaurant, which was shaped like a derby hat and frequented by many celebrities of the time. The cocktail quickly gained popularity and became a favorite among the Hollywood elite.

  • The Brown Derby was often enjoyed by actors, directors, and producers during the Golden Age of Hollywood
  • The cocktail's popularity spread beyond Hollywood and became a staple in bars and cocktail lounges across the country
  • Today, the Brown Derby is considered a classic cocktail and is enjoyed by people who appreciate its rich history and delicious taste

How Brown Derby Tastes?

The Brown Derby cocktail is a well-balanced mix of sweet, sour, and strong flavors. The bourbon provides a rich, warm base, while the grapefruit juice adds a tangy, citrusy note. The honey syrup brings a touch of sweetness to balance out the sourness of the grapefruit and the strength of the bourbon.

Interesting facts about Brown Derby

  • The Brown Derby is sometimes referred to as a 'Hollywood classic' due to its origins in the famous Hollywood restaurant
  • The cocktail is often served in a chilled coupe glass, which was a popular glassware choice during the 1930s
  • The Brown Derby is sometimes garnished with a grapefruit twist or a cherry, adding an extra touch of elegance to the presentation



Bourbon is the soul of the Brown Derby, providing a warm, oaky backbone. Its sweet, vanilla, and caramel notes are a natural match with honey syrup and a strong foundation against the tart grapefruit juice. Too little and you lose the cocktail's character; too much and it's a bourbon-forward sipper.

Alex Green

Grapefruit Juice

This adds a delightful tartness that cuts through the sweetness of the syrup and the richness of the bourbon, offering balance and a refreshing zing. It's like that friend who's not afraid to tell you when you've got something in your teeth – brutally honest but always appreciated.

Emma Rose

Honey Syrup

Acts as the peacemaker between bourbon and grapefruit juice. The sweet, floral notes of honey tie the room together – just like a rug in a well-furnished living room. Leave it out, and you'll miss out on that harmonious link.

Mary Mitkina

Grapefruit Twist (Optional)

A twist adds aromatics and a touch of elegance to the presentation. It's like a bow tie on a suit – not absolutely necessary, but it sure makes a statement.

Alex Green

Cherry (Optional)

A cherry is the sweet little surprise at the end of the drink, much like finding that last piece of chocolate you forgot about. It doesn't make or break the drink, but it's a pleasant finishing touch.

Emma Rose

Recipe. How to make Brown Derby Drink

  1. Prepare honey syrup by combining equal parts honey and warm water, stirring until fully dissolved. Allow to cool.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, combine the bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup.
  3. Add ice to the shaker and shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds.
  4. Strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe glass.
  5. Garnish with a grapefruit twist or cherry, if desired.

Pro Tips

  • Use fresh grapefruit juice for a brighter, fresher flavor.
  • Chill your glass before pouring the cocktail to keep it cool longer.
  • Double strain the cocktail to remove any pulp from the grapefruit juice.

Perfect Pairings


  • Charcuterie Boards: The savory flavors of cured meats contrast nicely with the sweetness of the honey and the tartness of the grapefruit.
  • Sushi: Particularly with rolls featuring tempura shrimp or eel, the Brown Derby complements the delicate flavors of sushi.

Main Courses

  • Grilled Chicken: The citrus element of the cocktail cuts through the richness of the chicken's skin.
  • Pork Chops: A beautiful combination as the honey element mirrors a common glaze for pork.


  • Fruit Tarts: Echoes the citrus notes and complements the sweetness.
  • Vanilla Bean Ice Cream: Creates a perfect balance with the bourbon.

Non-Alcoholic Pairings

  • Sparkling Water with a Dash of Bitters: Mimics the complexity of flavors while remaining non-alcoholic.

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What you could change in Brown Derby

  • Bourbon: Can be substituted with another type of whiskey or rye.
  • Grapefruit juice: Can be substituted with another citrus juice, like orange or lemon.
  • Honey syrup: Can be substituted with simple syrup or agave syrup.

Explore all drinks starting with B here

And of course - twists🍹

Spicy Derby

  • Add a slice of jalapeño: For those who like a kick, the spice will complement the sweet and tart profile while heating things up.
  • Recipe: Follow the original recipe, adding a slice of jalapeño into the shaker before shaking.
  • Flavor Change: Expect the warmth of the bourbon to be amplified by the heat of the pepper, leaving a zesty aftertaste.

Derby Sour

  • Include an egg white: Creating a frothy cap atop your cocktail, the egg white will smooth out the flavors for a silkier beverage.
  • Recipe: Add an egg white into the shaker with the other ingredients before adding ice and give it a dry shake. Then, shake again with ice and strain into the glass.
  • Flavor Change: The egg white tempers the cocktail's zestiness, giving it a creamy texture and a more gentle tartness.

Herbal Derby

  • Infuse the bourbon with rosemary: The herbal notes add an earthy complexity to the simple sweetness of honey and the tartness of grapefruit.
  • Recipe: Infuse about 2 cups of bourbon with a sprig of rosemary for 1-2 hours, then use this in your cocktail.
  • Flavor Change: Rosemary brings a woodsy note that echoes the barreling flavors of the bourbon, making for an aromatic and multi-layered sipping experience.

In case you forgot basics how to make Brown Derby

Add your ingredients to the shaker first, then ice. Fill it up to ¾ of its capacity to ensure enough space for shaking. Hold the shaker with both hands (one on the top and one on the bottom) and shake vigorously. The shake should come from your shoulders, not your wrists.

Learn everything on how to shake

Place your chosen strainer on top of the shaker or mixing glass, ensuring a secure fit. Pour the cocktail into a glass through the strainer, which will catch solid ingredients and ice. If double straining, hold the fine mesh strainer between the shaker and the glass.

Learn everything on how to strain

Insert the spoon into the glass until it touches the bottom. Keep the back of the spoon against the inside wall of the glass, and stir in a smooth, circular motion. The goal is to swirl the ice and ingredients together without churning or splashing.

Learn everything on how to stir

Garnishing a bar drink depends on the type of garnish and the cocktail. Generally, it involves preparing the garnish (like cutting a citrus wheel or picking a sprig of mint), and then adding it to the drink in a visually appealing way (like perching it on the rim or floating it on top).

Learn everything on garnishing

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Frequently Asked Questions on Brown Derby

What type of bourbon is best to use in a Brown Derby cocktail?

The best bourbon for a Brown Derby is generally a higher-quality, aged bourbon. Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, and Maker's Mark are some popular options.

What other cocktails can I make with these ingredients?

Bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup are also ingredients in cocktails like the Gold Rush, the Bees Knees, and the Old Fashioned.

I can't find honey syrup. Can I use honey instead?

Yes, you can use honey, but it might not dissolve as well as honey syrup, which can affect the cocktail's texture. If you want to use honey, try warming it up first, so it's easier to mix in.

What's a coupe glass, and can I use a different kind of glass?

A coupe glass is a stemmed glass with a broad, shallow bowl. It's used for many traditional cocktails. If you don't have a coupe glass, you can use a martini glass or an Old Fashioned glass instead.

What alternatives to cherries can I use for garnishing?

Besides cherries, you can garnish your Brown Derby with a slice of grapefruit or lemon, or even a sprig of fresh mint.

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