Brown Derby

As a Kentuckian who has been to many Derby parties over the years, I've discovered that Mint Juleps just aren't my thing. I like a cocktail that highlights the flavors of a whiskey, not hides them. With Mint Juleps, I've always felt that the beauty of the bourbon gets lost amongst the simple syrup and shaved ice. So, I've recently been on the hunt for a new Spring cocktail and in my search I stumbled upon a recipe for an old classic, the Brown Derby. 

Brown Derby Cocktail

I wish this was an original creation that I could claim, but this cocktail actually dates back to the 1930s. I found this particular recipe while flipping through an edition of Death & Co Modern Classic Cocktails. Since I first tried the recipe, I've been puzzled over why this drink works; I would never have imagined that pairing bourbon and grapefruit juice could result in something so delicious. Somehow the bright citrus notes from the juice and the rich honey syrup perfectly compliment the character of the bourbon, creating a luscious, buttery combo. 

As noted in the Death & Co recipe, I used Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon, although the 12 year age stated bottle they called for in the original recipe is long gone. I also used fresh-squeezed grapefruit and lemon juice. You might be able to get away with using store-bought grapefruit juice, but I haven't tested that yet. Two grapefruits gave me enough juice for about 4 cocktails, so I think it's worth the trouble to juice them yourself.

Making honey syrup might sound intimidating, but it's actually really simple. The recipe I used was equal parts honey to water, just like a simple syrup recipe. What amount to use really depends on how many cocktails you want to make. I used a 1/2 cup of honey & a 1/2 cup of water to make 4 cocktails and I still had syrup left over. If you don't have time to make the honey syrup, a bar spoon of honey per cocktail will work. If you go that route, I recommend stirring the honey into the shaker with all of the other ingredients before you add ice and shake. That should help dissolve it so it doesn't clump up in the shaker.


Brown Derby 
Makes 1 drink


  • 2 oz. bourbon 
  • 1 oz. grapefruit juice 
  • 1/2 oz. honey syrup
  • Dash or bar spoon of lemon juice

Honey Syrup 

  • Water
  • Honey


Make the honey syrup by adding equal parts water and honey to a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the honey is dissolved, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerated syrup will keep for 2-3 weeks. 

2 Add all of the ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled. 

3 Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a grapefruit twist


Check out our full recipe video:


Did you make this recipe? Let us know! 
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Sara Ahlgrim 
Co-founder of It's Bourbon Night & Whiskey Ambitions

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