Why You Should be Injecting Bourbon Into Your Grapefruit

The Brown Derby. Photo by Jakob Layman.
The Brown Derby. Photo by Jakob Layman.

At (the former) 189 by Dominique Ansel in Los Angeles, a table-side cocktail involved the usual suspects, like a shaker and stately barware. It also involved blow torches and grapefruits.

Meet The Brown Derby, a cocktail that brings together Eagle Rare bourbon, fresh grapefruit, maple syrup, brown sugar, and fresh thyme leaves. “Eagle Rare 10-Year bourbon is one of my favorites,” says executive chef Anthony Stagnaro. “It’s dry but bold and I love the oaky notes.” The bourbon is good, but the real magic of the drink is in its preparation and presentation. “We take the bourbon, inject it into a fresh grapefruit, slice and brûlee the grapefruit for you table-side,” says Stagnaro.

The Brown Derby is a drink with pizazz—one that will help you make friends and influence people. Step one, get a grapefruit. You’ll be soaking your grapefruit for three days before serving, so buy your grapefruit early if you’re not the kind of person who has a grapefruit on hand at all times. “We use fresh ruby red grapefruits,” says Stagnaro. “I always look for ones that have a slightly pink/reddish hue on the rind, and feel heavy for their size so you know it’s ripe and it’ll be full of juice.”

Pierce holes at the top of your grapefruit using a paring knife, then grab that culinary syringe you bought after watching Bravo’s “Top Chef” seven years ago. “Use a culinary syringe to inject bourbon and a bit of maple syrup directly into the grapefruits.” You’re going to cover grapefruit and store them upright in your fridge for three days, allowing the bourbon and maple to join forces. “They’re chilled in the fridge for at least 72 hours, so the flavors are enhanced and macerate together before they’re brûléed with brown sugar and thyme and juice table-side,” says Stagnaro.

When those three long days have passed, slice your grapefruit and sprinkle it with brown sugar and fresh thyme leaves. Next it’s time to torch your cocktail for your soon-to-be bewildered audience, living out your dream of being a flame-throwing Benihana chef. If you don’t have an appropriate torch at home, don’t go to Home Depot for your fiery needs. Try Sur La Table or Amazon’s kitchen department.

“We use a small hand-held butane torch, the same kind you’d use to make a crème brûlée (or in our case, for torching our Frozen S’mores downstairs at the Bakery!),” says Stagnaro. Finally you’ll juice your grapefruit into a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake lightly. Adjust the drink as your palate desires. “If you happen to get a nice big fresh juicy grapefruit, this is all you’ll need,” says Stagnaro. “But if your grapefruit isn’t particularly juicy, you can always top off with a splash of fresh grapefruit juice and a dash more bourbon.”

When this article was published, Stagnaro and the team at 189 by Dominique Ansel had not yet tried injecting any other produce with booze. “But guest really love this drink so maybe it’s something we’ll try with other fruits or even vegetables.”

Brown Derby at 189 by Dominique Ansel

2 oz. Eagle Rare
1 large ruby red grapefruit
1 oz. maple syrup
2 tbsp. Brown sugar
Fresh thyme leaves
Sprig of fresh thyme for garnish


1. Using a sharp paring knife, pierce a few small holes into the top of the grapefruit.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine bourbon and maple syrup with a whisk. Using a culinary syringe, inject the bourbon maple mixture into the holes of the grapefruit.

3. Store the grapefruit facing upright in the fridge for a minimum of 3 days, in order to enhance the flavors.

4. When ready to serve, slice the grapefruit in half and place on a small metal sheet tray or
baking pan. Sprinkle an even layer of brown sugar and a few fresh thyme leaves onto the
surface of each grapefruit half. Table-side, use a handheld butane torch to brûlée the brown
sugar until caramelized.

5. Juice both halves of the grapefruit into a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake lightly.

6. Pour over ice in a double rocks glass, and top off with more bourbon and fresh grapefruit
juice to taste. Garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.