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How The Brown Derby Cocktail Got Its Name

Brown Derby

The Brown Derby is a classic Hollywood cocktail. The cocktail comes with a characteristic, refreshing mix of grapefruit juice, bourbon, and honey syrup. The trio of ingredients smoothly blends the complex taste of the cocktail with the honey, bridging the gap between the spicy bourbon to generate an intricate combination that has remained popular for years. Here is a look at the Brown Derby origin, classic recipe, and even how it got its name.

The Brown Derby Cocktail History

A bartender made the Brown Derby Cocktail in 1930s Hollywood at the Vendome Club, 6666 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. During these years, the studios produced some of their popular classics, and film stars drank their way down the Sunset Strip. According to Difford’s Guide, the Vendome café was launched in 1933 by William Wilkerson, a real estate developer and owner of The Hollywood Reporter offices located a block away.

Strangely, despite being made at the Vendome club, The Brown Derby cocktail was named the nearby restaurant, ‘The Brown Derby,’ which was constructed in the shape of a rotund derby hat. However, the origin of the cocktail becomes foggy from here. The Brown Derby Cocktail appeared in the book ‘Hollywood Cocktail’ published in 1933. However, it also appeared under a different name, the ‘De Rigueur cocktail,’ in the British bartender Harry Craddock’s ‘The 1930s Savoy Cocktail Book’.

So, were the two drinks featuring the same recipe living under different names in different places? We can’t tell for sure, but drinkers will not be so much concerned with history as they sip the tart, sweet, refreshing cocktail. While both the original diners have remained closed since the 1980s, Disney has successfully revived cocktail classics in the 21st century. Like Disney, the cocktail enthusiast community is bringing a new lease on the Brown Derby cocktail as it returns to trendy restaurants and bars down the country.

So, How Did the Brown Derby Cocktail Get Its Name?

Although made at the Vendome, the cocktail is named after the nearby, fashionable Hollywood restaurant of the era, the Brown Derby. The cocktail was named for the eponymous hat-shaped diner that was situated nearby. This location drew celebrities regularly and other characters, becoming part of the Hollywood lore.

Brown Derby Cocktail Recipe

The Brown Derby cocktail is a snap. You simply need to shake grapefruit, bourbon, and honey syrup with ice. The cocktail features a remarkable balance; spicy oak, vanilla-scented bourbon at the fore but perfectly balanced with the peppery and acidic cut of grapefruit, all wrapped in a velvety honey syrup.


  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
  • 1/2-ounce honey syrup
  • 1-ounce fresh grapefruit juice
  • Garnish with a grapefruit twist


  • Add the grapefruit, bourbon, and honey syrup into an ice-filled shaker and shake until it’s well-chilled.
  • Fine-strain the blended mixture into a cocktail glass.
  • Express the oil from the grapefruit, twist over the drink and drop the twist into the glass to garnish.

It’s recommendable to use sweet, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Texas Red grapefruits are a perfect choice for this recipe. When the honey syrup is substituted with scotch whisky sweetened with honey, it becomes a De Rigueur.

How To Make Your Own Honey Syrup

Honey Syrup is very easy to create. It is similar to making a simple sugar syrup but replaces the sugar with honey. Honey Syrup is honey that has been thinned with water. The process generates a mixable sweetener that easily blends with other ingredients. You only need to add equal amounts of water and honey to a saucepan. Heat it over low to medium heat and keep stirring until all the honey dissolves.

Be careful not to allow the mix to simmer or bubble to avoid burning the sugars in the honey. According to Epicurious, the honey syrup will last long when made fresh and stored in the fridge. Therefore, you can keep it in the refrigerator for more than a month and have fun mixing up other honey cocktails. the syrup will last for months in the fridge so that you can keep some for extra recipes

The Brown Derby Cocktail Taste

When you taste the Brown Derby cocktail for the first time, your tastebuds will immediately get excited. The cocktail tastes sultry bourbon spanked with a burst of grapefruit and shrouded in a honey-flavored clinch. The cocktail is deliciously tart with balanced sweetness and wholly. It has a simple flavor yet is genuinely remarkable.

When To Serve the Brown Derby Cocktail

Its versatility and simplicity should not be a question when to drink this cocktail. Take it wherever you fancy it. The Brown Derby Cocktail has no tradition, so it’s perfect wherever and whenever you are drinking it. However, the Brown Derby Cocktail is an excellent choice as an aperitif for its subtle honey sweetness and citrusy grapefruit burst. The cocktail is sufficiently refreshing to be served in the evening or for a brunch cocktail. So, give the recipe a try if you are searching for a bourbon cocktail that’s lighter and more refreshing. While the cocktail is ideal for serving at any time of the year, it’s perfect for drinking during the winter when the citrus ripeness is at its peak.

How Strong Is the Brown Derby Cocktail?

Although a sweet, balanced drink, the Brown Derby cocktail is significantly potent. The drink has 14.5 grams of pure alcohol and about 17% ABV. So, if you will be driving home later, drink responsibly.

Bottom Line

Hopefully, you now understand how the Brown Derby cocktail got its name, a cocktail you probably have never heard before, but you are now eager to try out. It’s easy to prepare, and all the ingredients are easy to find, so you can’t afford not to try the Brown Derby. One sip and you will be taken back to the American years where Hollywood was in its jazz and infancy music was in its prime. Give it a try, and you might get a new favorite cocktail to shake up the next party.

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Lily Wordsmith

Written by Lily Wordsmith

Lily Wordsmith is a freelance writer who has had a love affair with the written word for decades. You can find her writing blog posts and articles while sitting under a tree at the local park watching her kids play, or typing away on her tablet in line at the DMV. In addition to her freelance career, she is pursuing ebook writing with an ever-growing repertoire of witty ebooks to her name. Her diversity is boundless, and she has written about everything from astrobotany to zookeepers. Her real passions are her family, baking desserts and all things luxe.

Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith

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