The Brown Derby was one of the first drinks that started my love affair with cocktails. It helped me realize that, when well-crafted, well-balanced, and made from quality ingredients, a cocktail – even a simple Sour – could really be a thing of beauty. From the Golden Age of Hollywood, the Brown Derby is a mellow but somewhat plain drink, despite a couple of uncommon ingredients. So we’ve tried to put a more modern spin on it and spice it up a bit (pun a little bit intended).
Read below for the full recipe!
Illustration by Caitlin Keegan
Rosewater-Cardamom Brown Derby
2 oz Bourbon
1 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
1 oz Rosewater-Cardamom Honey Syrup
To make the honey syrup, mix equal parts honey and water over low heat to fully melt the honey. (Adding honey by itself to a cold drink doesn’t do much good, as the honey will just glop together at the bottom of the glass, but you can solve this problem by turning it into a syrup that will mix nicely.) Add some crushed cardamom pods and a dash or two of rosewater and stir. Slowly add more cardamom and rosewater; it’s tricky to get a lot of flavor that will shine through in the final drink without ending up with a cloying syrup that tastes too much of rosewater, so taste frequently as you go.
Once the syrup is done, combine it with the bourbon – I went with W.L. Weller, a wheated bourbon – and fresh grapefruit juice. Shake well with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and enjoy!
The original Brown Derby was probably invented at the Vendome Club in Los Angeles, a popular hang out spot for 1930s Hollywood notables, though a few others around the country lay claim to it. The owners of the Vendome allegedly named it in honor of their chief rival, the Brown Derby – which was, oddly enough, shaped like a giant brown derby hat. Go figure. It was made with bourbon, grapefruit, and honey and, like I said, is good and mellow but can be a little plain. But it really shines when spiced up with some rosewater and cardamom, a fantastic flavor combination from the Middle East and South Asia that’s fantastic in everything from ice cream to coffee to cocktails.
Photo Credits: Nole Garey for Oh So Beautiful Paper