Weekly Cocktail #30: The Derby

The Derby Cocktail.

When we look around our bar, it doesn’t take long for us to see that bourbon is sometimes a neglected spirit. We often prefer rye whiskey in many classic cocktails and when reworking old recipes tend to look to Cognac or Armagnac. But that doesn’t mean we dislike bourbon, we just usually drink it neat, on the rocks or in Mint Juleps when spring comes around. But part of why we write about our explorations in cocktails is to expand our tastes, so this week we took another look at bourbon.

And it didn’t take us long to find the Derby. The Derby combines bourbon, sweet vermouth, orange Curacao and lime juice. We were attracted to this drink both because it uses common ingredients (like the Scofflaw), but features the uncommon mix of lime and whiskey (like the Junior). And, finally, a little research from Ted Haigh noted that Trader Vic Bergeron himself published this recipe and featured the drink. If it’s good enough for Trader Vic, we figured the Derby was worth a try.

And the Derby is certainly worth a try, and probably a regular visit. The bourbon and sweet vermouth are a natural fit, but the Curacao adds depth and the lime adds a bright, tart flavor to the sip. If you are a big Manhattan fan, you might find this drink a bit sour, but if you are a rum or gin fan, this cocktail may seem like familiar territory. But make no mistake, you taste the sweet caramel notes of the bourbon, it just doesn’t dominate the whole sip. Like we said, worth a visit.

As for the spirits, we use Bulleit bourbon as our go-to bourbon and recommend it, but this would be a good cocktail to play with- try the bourbon(s) you have. We also use Pierre Ferrand Curacao, a reformulation / recreation of  “old-time” Curacao. We are big fans of the Pierre Ferrand, it is less sweet and has more spice than most Curacaos or triple secs. But finally, the big variable in the Derby is the sweet vermouth. We use Carpano Antica, a much less sweet vermouth that adds some spice and amps the tartness of the drink. (If you see a theme emerging, it’s that we usually prefer tart and spice flavors in our cocktails).  If you like a sweeter sip, Dolin or M&R might be the way to go. But again, the Derby is a good recipe for experimentation, and a great way to enjoy a little bourbon.

The Derby Cocktail:


  • 1 oz. bourbon whiskey
  • 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 oz. orange Curacao
  • 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice.


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Serve.

9 thoughts on “Weekly Cocktail #30: The Derby

  1. Cocktail time … appetizing as always – but because of the bourbon I say no thanks and wait until next Friday. They have been pushing Jack Daniel’s Honey over here – have you tried it.????

      • Just love the commercial with that rocking bee … with the helmet. Even with a taste of honey will I drink whiskey – I have to be suffering from a very BAaaAaaAAAAD cold or flue before I take to the whiskey bottle, but it’s great for that .. sleep like a baby after a large shot.

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