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The Brown Derby Cocktail

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In blows the cold wind and out goes the tequila and gin. Stock that home bar with brandy and rum and plop down by the fire. Cold weather might conjure up nogs, toddies and hot buttered rum, but for me, I immediately think of the Brown Derby.

Not the legendary chain of restaurants, or that delicious bourbon drink, but the beautiful union of dark rum, lime, and maple, with a sprinkling of allspice. Like Christmas in the Caribbean, it’s the best of both worlds. Spicy with a warm embrace in spite of the cold.

The history of the Brown Derby is as murky as the drink itself. There are two drinks both named the Brown Derby. The bourbon version, the more well-known of the siblings, comprised of bourbon, grapefruit and honey, and this tipple, a throwback to pioneer towns and faded traditions. When rum was the choice of booze for most Americans, being produced all along the Eastern seaboard, the final destination of boats returning from the warm waters of the Caribbean. So adept were those early distillers that rums from Massachusetts and Rhode Island where widely sought after, even being used for trade and, at times, currency. During this time, 17th-19th centuries, maple syrup was the dominant source of sugar in the US.

But by the advent of the cocktail, rum would have faded as America’s spirit, usurped by brandy and then, later, whiskey. Sometime in the early 1900’s, the rummy Brown Derby was invented. Truth be told, I cannot find any a mention in any classic cocktail book. The first printed instance is in an Esquire column from 1939, citing Medford rum, a now defunct rum. That would make one think the drink originated in New England, which would rule out being a drink at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles. But tis all speculation.

The Brown Derby

2oz Plantation Dark Rum

3/4oz lime juice

1/2oz grade B* maple syrup

barspoon Allspice Dram

Shake all the ingredients together, strain, and serve up.

No garnish needed.

* Maple syrup is divided into four categories, based on its translucence. Grade B is the darkest and richest and best when a concentrated maple flavor is desired, like in cocktails or baking.