It is fair to say that there is something of an unholy marriage between drinking and betting on horse races. Whether this is the origin of the Derby cocktail, we will never know – the invention of the Derby is completely lost in time. Similarly lost is its ‘recipe zero’ because there are at least three cocktails that bear the name ‘Derby,’ and all of them differ in the application of base spirit.

The version of the Derby most often encountered is the Brown Derby, which is made from bourbon, lime, triple sec and vermouth and dates from 1930s Hollywood. But, there is a slightly older version that just mixes gin and peach bitters, and that is first recorded by Harry McElhone in 1927. The drink is later repeated in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. It is this bittered gin version that the IBA has picked up, chipped into stone and taken up the mountain. Their reasons for selecting the 1927 recipe over any other is also … unknown.

Shake or stir? When I read the IBA recipe and made the drink using the stir method (see below), the one thing that struck me was that the mint served no purpose of flavour. In the Savoy version, Craddock advocates shaking, probably (but not certainly) with the mint, which would extract more flavour from the leaves. Try both ways, but when you do so, please bear in mind that this is a pretty brutal, Martini-grade tipple. Drinking two of them back to back will deck you.

Cold Glass has done an excellent treatise on the Derby, and suggested some modern, more palatable variants, all of which we intend to try.


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By IBA Serves: 1
Cooking Time: None


  • 60ml dry gin
  • 2 dashes of peach bitters
  • 2 mint leaves



Stir the gin and bitters with ice and strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with mint.

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