Girls Night: The Brown Derby from Sylvie Shirazi
It all started back in December; the bartender handed me a pretty, light pink drink that all the ladies were having that night. I asked him what it was, and he firmly insisted I try it before he would tell me. I cautiously took a sip, afraid of the mysterious concoction I had just been handed, while simultaneously determining whether I was willing to trust his recommendation. I felt the tart hit of grapefruit on my tongue as it gently gave way to a smooth honeyed heat that lingered long after. It was good, very good. I asked again what it was that I was drinking, and he replied, “a Brown Derby.”
It’s interesting how some drinks become so entrenched in cocktail history. Bartenders everywhere are mixing, shaking and stirring up living history every night, many from decades passed. The Brown Derby–a combination of bourbon, grapefruit and honey–is one of those cocktails. History has it that this particular cocktail was invented at the Vendome Club in Hollywood in the early 1930s. It was named after the famous hat-shaped restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard called the Brown Derby, a popular celebrity hangout at the time, and the place to be and to be seen.
Regardless of the cocktail’s origins, it’s a classic worth revisiting. The bourbon merges nicely with the honeyed grapefruit base, giving the drink depth and structure; it’s a result that’s much greater than the sum of its parts. The beauty of this drink is in its simplicity. There’s no liqueurs or hard-to-find ingredients, just pure, clean flavors.
I mixed up another Brown Derby the other night, which only makes me wonder why it took me so long…
The Brown Derby
Yield: 1 drink
Glassware: Champagne coupe or cocktail glass
Tools: Cocktail shaker
1 ½ oz (45 ml) bourbon
1 ½ oz (45 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
½ oz (15 ml) honey syrup (made from equal parts water and honey brought to a simmer and cooled)
1 grapefruit slice, for garnish
Sylvie Shirazi is the writer and photographer of the blog Gourmande in the Kitchen.