Bronze Derby – A Modern Take On A Classic Cocktail

Jan 9th

Because grapefruit has been in season recently and I had an abundance of honey (long story), I was exhausting the Brown Derby, a classic whiskey cocktail, whose namesake stems from the long-gone but, not forgotten, famous Los Angeles restaurant.  The flavors are perfect and simple – bourbon, grapefruit juice and honey syrup (a mix of hot water and honey), and though I loved this cocktail, I thought that I just needed to try something new.  I didn’t want to stray too far from the original because the flavors worked so well together, so I started experimenting and came up with the following recipe, using rye instead of bourbon, simple syrup instead of honey, a dash of grapefruit bitters, and basil (there’s the modern).  The following recipe will make one cocktail and can easily be doubled, quadrupled, octupled, etc.


  • 2 1/2 ounces of Rye Whiskey (I prefer Rittenhouse 100)
  • 1 1/2 ounces of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1 ounce of simple syrup
  • 5-8 dashes of grapefruit bitters (I use Fee Brothers)
  • 3 basil leaves


  • Martini Shaker
  • Muddler
  • Martini Glass


Put a few ice cubes in cocktail glass and fill with cold water to chill the glass while preparing the cocktail.  Cut two basil leaves into strips and place into the martini shaker along with the 5-8 dashes of grapefruit bitters and grapefruit juice.  Muddle the basil with the bitters and grapefruit juice to release the basil essence, but not so much so that you begin getting pesto consistency (a couple bits of basil are fine, but you generally want the strips to stay intact).  Add the bourbon, simple syrup and ice, shake vigorously and strain into the martini glass (after you’ve tossed out the ice & water).  Take the remaining basil leaf and clap it in your hand to release the flavor and slip into the cocktail.  Now drink and enjoy!

* Note:   The sweetness of the grapefruit juice will vary depending upon the variety of grapefruit and particular grapefruit, so adjust the amount of simple syrup accordingly.  I have used all varieties of grapefruit, but prefer Ruby Red.  And, always taste your cocktail after you’ve shaken it but before going to glass to adjust it and get the perfect cocktail to your liking.