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Brown Derby Cocktail

The brown derby cocktail is an iconic, California classic. Made with bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup, this refreshing cocktail recipe is perfectly balanced and beyond easy to make.

Fluted glass with the orange drink in it with a twist in it

Just looking at the brown derby makes one think of the olden days: the time of Hollywood royalty like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and the old Brown Derby diner in Los Angeles, for which it is named. I don’t know if my mother ever drank this cocktail, but I’m sure she would have loved it. It was definitely of her era.

This classic bourbon cocktail first came out in the early 1930s. It was created at the Vendôme club on Sunset Boulevard, which was owned by the founder of The Hollywood Reporter.

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There are only three ingredients needed to make this cocktail although there’s a little preparation to make the honey syrup. The result is the brown derby drink with its distinctive orange color.

The taste or flavor of this drink is robust, which makes it the perfect sipping cocktail. Serve it at your next party and watch your bourbon whiskey-loving guests smile in appreciation.

Want to learn more about bourbon? Read my whiskey guide here.

How do you make honey syrup?

Honey syrup is made in a similar way to simple syrup but this time with equal parts honey and water. Boil the water then take add it to the honey in a measuring glass. Stir until it the honey is completely melted. Leave it to cool for 5 minutes before adding it to your cocktail.

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Helpful tips

  • I always advise buying the best alcohol you can afford. The taste difference between an ultra-budget bourbon and a mid-level bourbon is significant.
  • Honey syrup gives this cocktail a rich taste and it’s very easy to make. You add equal parts honey and water. Some people like to add maple syrup in place of the honey. So, 1 ounce of water (it doesn’t need to be hot to melt the maple syrup) to the 1 ounce of maple syrup and stir.
  • Try to get a good grapefruit juice. I usually buy mine at Whole Foods because it doesn’t have preservatives.
  • I use both a coupe glass and a martini glass to showcase the cocktail, but you can use either two martini glasses or if you have them, two coupe glasses.
  • For the garnish, you are going to cut two grapefruit twists. One I cut with a paring knife because I wanted it to be a thick garnish and the other, I used a channeling knife to cut a thinner twist.
  • Here’s how to use a channeling knife: Take the washed grapefruit in your non-dominant hand and the channeling knife in your dominant hand. Press down on the skin of the grapefruit and turn the fruit as you keep the same pressure. Cut as long a strip as you like. I feel – the longer, the better.
  • If you want to add a grapefruit slice along with the twist, I approve.

Can you store the honey syrup?

If you want to make a bigger batch of honey syrup, you can store it in a ball or mason jar once it is cooled. If it separates, you may have to warm it up and give it a stir if you store it somewhere cool. The syrup can be stored for up to 6 months before you should use it up.

How to make a brown derby cocktail

Pre-step

Get a cocktail shaker and fill it halfway with ice. Also get out a measuring glass, cocktail spoon and two martini glasses.

After measuring out the ingredients, add to the cocktail shaker.

Step one

Get the ingredients – bourbon, honey syrup, and grapefruit juice.

Bourbon, honey and grapefruit on a table

Step two

Measure 3.5 ounces of bourbon. (A)

Step three

Measure 2 ounces of grapefruit juice. (B)

Bourbon and grapefruit juice measured out

Step four

Measure 1 ounce honey. (C)

Step five

Add 1 ounce of hot water to the measuring glass and stir until the honey has dissolved.

Honey and water measured out

Wait a few minutes before adding the honey syrup to the cocktail shaker. It doesn’t have to be totally cool, but it shouldn’t be hot.

Step six

Cap the shaker and shake for 15 seconds. Divide and strain the cocktail between the two glasses.

Add a grapefruit twist to each drink.

Two glasses with the brown derby in them on a table

You can see the thick cut grapefruit twist in the front glass.

Martini glasses filled with the cocktail with orange twists in them

Let’s look at another view of this classic drink.

Vertical view of the martini glass filled with the drink with a coupe glass in the back

I hope you enjoyed the brown derby cocktail with its tangy yet sweet delicious taste!

Other bourbon cocktails

And as always, may all your dishes be delish!

If you’ve tried this recipe, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below. I love hearing from you! You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOKTWITTERINSTAGRAM, and PINTEREST to see more of my delicious food and delightful cocktails!

A fluted coup glass filled with the amber cocktail - square

Bourbon Brown Derby Cocktail

All you need is bourbon, grapefruit juice, and honey syrup to make this timeless Brown Derby Cocktail. It’s delicious, refreshing, and easy to make!
5 from 4 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Cocktails
Cuisine: Cocktails
Keyword: bourbon brown derby, brown derby, brown derby cocktail
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 2 Cocktails
Calories: 280kcal

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 ounces bourbon
  • 2 ounces grapefruit juice
  • 2 ounces honey syrup (1 ounce of honey mixed with 1 ounce of hot water)

Garnish

  • 2 pieces grapefruit rind (twisted)

Instructions

  • Fill cocktail shaker 1/2 way with ice.
  • Add bourbon, grapefruit juice and honey syrup.
    3 1/2 ounces bourbon, 2 ounces grapefruit juice, 2 ounces honey syrup
  • Cap shaker and shake for 15 seconds.
  • Divide and strain between the two glasses and add each grapefruit twist garnish to each glass.
    2 pieces grapefruit rind
  • Sip
  • Smile
  • Enjoy
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Notes

Helpful tips
  • I always advise buying the best alcohol you can afford. The taste difference between an ultra-budget bourbon and a mid-level bourbon is significant.
  • Honey syrup gives this cocktail a rich taste and it’s very easy to make. You add equal parts honey and water. Some people like to add maple syrup in place of the honey. So, 1 ounce of water (it doesn’t need to be hot to melt the maple syrup) to the 1 ounce of maple syrup and stir.
  • Try to get a good grapefruit juice. I usually buy mine at Whole Foods because it doesn’t have preservatives.
  • I use both a coupe glass and a martini glass to showcase the cocktail, but you can use either two martini glasses or if you have them, two coupe glasses.
  • For the garnish, you are going to cut two grapefruit twists. One I cut with a paring knife because I wanted it to be a thick garnish and the other, I used a channeling knife to cut a thinner twist.
  • Here’s how to use a channeling knife: Take the washed grapefruit in your non-dominant hand and the channeling knife in your dominant hand. Press down on the skin of the grapefruit and turn the fruit as you keep the same pressure. Cut as long a strip as you like. I feel – the longer, the better.
  • If you want to add a grapefruit slice along with the twist, I approve.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cocktail | Calories: 280kcal | Carbohydrates: 53g | Sodium: 3mg | Potassium: 121mg | Sugar: 52g | Vitamin C: 15.3mg | Iron: 0.5mg
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From lighting up stages with her BA in theater to food journalist, Elaine Benoit's journey is a testament to passion's transformative power. As the CEO of Dishes Delish, she offers a blend of healthy, comforting recipes and exquisitely crafted cocktails. Beyond the kitchen, Elaine voiced her culinary adventures on her podcast, "Dishing," and co-owns Food Blogger Help, extending her expertise to guide budding food bloggers to success. Whether it's for a heartwarming dish or insights into food blogging, Elaine's diverse experiences make her a beacon in the culinary digital landscape.

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28 Comments

  1. Love it…bourbon…honey and grapefruit. Like drinking a JD Honey but the grapefruit cuts through the sweetness of the honey and delivers a delight sweet sharpness and packed full of bourbon punch…amen and hallelujah!

    1. Haha Colin! Thanks! Yes, that is exactly it, in a nutshell. It is a perfectly balanced cocktail! Amen and hallelujah!! 🙂

  2. My grandmother and father make oats with a ton of salt in them — it’s apparently a Scottish thing — but I can’t get through one spoonful of it! Meanwhile, I think I could easily sip 1 or 2 of these fabulous cocktails!

    1. Lisa! That’s funny about your grandmother and father with the salt. Yes, this brown derby is a great sipping cocktail!

  3. Love your funny newlywed story! I hope you still have the videotape? After that I was expecting to see both salt and honey in the cocktail. It sounds lush regardless.

  4. I’m not normally a bourbon kind of gal, but this flavor combo sounds really delicious! I think I need to try this- it could be the drink that makes me love bourbon!

  5. Had friends over for drinks and made this for a change. It was super simple, and everyone was very impressed! Excited to try more of your cocktail recipes

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