The Derby cocktail is making a comeback, and we’re here for it! This old-school drink is a classic combination of grapefruit juice, bourbon and honey syrup. The result is a sweet and tart refreshing drink that’s sure to be a frontrunner at your next event.
The Vintage Derby Cocktail Recipe
PREP TIME 5 min
No cocktail shaker? No problem! Use a mason jar instead.
Make your own honey syrup by combining equal parts honey and water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer while stirring and store in a jar once cooled.
Want more zing? Add a squeeze of lemon or lime.
Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker
Add ice and shake until cold (about 30 seconds)
Strain into a chilled coupe glass
Garnish with grapefruit twist
Derby cocktail ingredients
This is one of the best summer Bourbon drinks you can make on a hot afternoon, so if you’re hosting a garden party, serve up the Brown Derby cocktail. The combination of bourbon, honey syrup and fresh grapefruit means it’s a real thirst quencher—but if you like something with a little more tartness, add a squeeze of fresh lime.
The winner in this drink is definitely the bourbon, but choose wisely! If you gamble on a cheap brand, your derby cocktail will give you a run for your money—and not in a good way. Instead, choose a bold bourbon, like Wild Turkey, that will stand out on its own without being overpowered by the additional sweetness of the honey syrup. The grapefruit adds a much-needed refreshing tartness to the drink—but if you want to give it more zing, add a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.
Derby Cocktail recipe tips
The Brown Derby cocktail is one of the simplest three-ingredient cocktails you can make. All you have to do is shake it all together in an ice-filled cocktail shaker, strain it into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a grapefruit peel twist. If you’re a novice cocktail maker without a bar toolkit, you can still pull off this Brown Derby cocktail recipe like a pro. Use a mason jar or small coffee flask instead of a cocktail shaker. No strainer? No problem! Use the lid of that mason jar or a tea strainer instead. Cocktail-making is supposed to be fun, so don’t take yourself too seriously.
History of the Derby cocktail
The Derby cocktail has been around the block a few times and came onto the scene back in the 1930s. That’s nearly a century ago so it makes sense that the stories of where this vintage drink originated are a little muddled. You might think that this cocktail was invented for the Kentucky Derby (just like the Mint Julep was), but it’s actually named after a then- famous derby hat shaped restaurant in Los Angeles. We know. Strange.
Stranger still is that the very same cocktail also made an appearance in two different books. The first was in the 1930’s British classic “Savoy Cocktail Book” but it was known as the De Rigueur Cocktail and used a Scotch whisky. The second appearance was in 1933 in a book called “Hollywood Cocktails.”
It’s all a bit murky, but there’s one sure bet: This little summer sipper is a winner.
What does the Derby cocktail taste like?
Surprisingly the Brown Derby cocktail is a little sweeter than you might think—but not in a bad way. The bourbon’s spices complement the honey syrup’s sweetness, which is perfectly balanced out by the tartness of the fresh grapefruit. In a word, the Derby cocktail tastes like bliss.
What are the variations of the Derby cocktail?
With the Brown Derby cocktail having been around for a long time, it makes sense that there are a few variations. These are two of our favourites.
Grand Marnier Derby: Made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, Grand Marnier, and fresh lime, this Derby cocktail is perfect for anyone who loves the combination of orange liqueur and bourbon.
Bulldog Derby: This one is stirred and strained into a glass. To make one, you’ll muddle together Bulldog Gin, peach bitters, simple syrup, mint leaves, and a splash of cold water in a mixing glass. Add ice and a splash of cold water, stir it well, and strain it into a chilled glass.