Friday, November 25, 2011

The Brown Derby Cocktail

The Brown Derby on Wilshire
In 1926, the original Brown Derby Restaurant opened at 3427 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Like most good things from that time, it no longer exists. It moved to 3377 Wilshire Boulevard, eventually got sold, and at last report was part of a typical LA strip mall.

The Brown Derby on Hollywood and Vine
It was not the only Brown Derby. Another branch, probably more famous, opened in Hollywood at 1628 North Vine Street. This branch also sported a distinctive brown dome, though it was not quite as derby-shaped as the original. The Hollywood Brown Derby was the place for the city's movers and shakers. A place to see, and be seen. They say Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard at this location. They also shot the "L.A. at Last" episode of I Love Lucy within its walls. There was a "Great Wall of Fame," on which hung the caricatures of the restaurant's many celebrity diners.

Allegedly, the Cobb Salad was invented there, made by owner Bob Cobb as a midnight meal for Sid Grauman (Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, Grauman's Chinese Theatre).

The Brown Derby Cocktail, however, was not invented there. Instead, it came from a competitor called the Vendome Club, also in Hollywood. According to Dale DeGroff's Craft of the Cocktail, this recipe dates to 1930.

The Vendome Club, Hollywood
The ingredients may sound strange at first, but bear with me. The flavors work well together - you get a very fleeting, candied sweetness, followed by a much more nuanced honey taste, then a pleasing bitterness introducing the whiskey's spiciness, and at the end, an incredibly dry finish - and it is a very simple drink to make. No fancy Italian liqueurs or hard-to-find bottlings. All you need is some fresh grapefruit juice, some honey, and some bourbon. For this drink I happened to use Old Grand-Dad 114 proof bourbon, which worked well. I had a grapefruit that was getting a bit soft, so I squeezed it for fresh grapefruit juice. And to make the honey syrup, all you do is mix one part honey with one part warm water, and stir until the honey dissolves.

My wife suggested that using different honeys - lavender, for instance - would impart variations in flavor that would be particularly pleasing. This would also be a success with rye whiskey. So, play around!

The Brown Derby Cocktail

  • 2 oz bourbon (or rye)
  • 1 oz fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 oz honey syrup (recipe here)

Shake the ingredients with ice, until very cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and enjoy. Easy peasy, nice and tasty.

Bottoms up!

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