The Derby

In the run-up to last week’s Mixology Monday I compiled a list of mint-containing drinks that I thought I’d like to sample. I made my way through three of them but had only so much time to allocate to drink, leaving other potential worthies untasted. In particular, I’d wanted to examine the Derby, for which I found two distinct recipes: one with peach bitters (in Craddock, Duffy, and Trader Vic’s), the other with peach brandy (in Embury and Beebe).

I don’t know when peach bitters entered their decline — CocktailDB implies that they failed to survive Prohibition, though Bergeron is calling for them ‘48 — but I suspect the reason that later authors employ peach brandy is that the bitters were growing scarce, if not already extinct. Lest customers seeking Derbies go unserved, brandy was substituted. Fortunately (and thanks in no small part to Ted Haigh), Fee Bros. has reintroduced peach bitters to the bartenders’ arsenal, so the merits of Derby evolution may be assessed.

With peach bitters, the Derby is mixed as follows:

2 oz. gin
5-6 dashes peach bitters*
2 sprigs of mint

shaken and strained.
* 2 dashes are called for, but my bottle of peach bitters delivers parsimonious dashes, so I’ve upped it. Whether this is true of all Fee’s peach bitters dashers, I cannot say… their Old Fashioned bitters flow generously.

Embury, on the other hand, would have the Derby thus:

2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. peach brandy
1 sprig of mint

muddle the mint with a small amount of sugar* before adding liquor, shaking and straining.
*Actually Embury suggests a small portion of simple syrup, but I opted for granulated sugar to improve the muddling.

Both are effective gin-delivery mechanisms, but as much as I’d like to find a favored use for peach bitters, I’m going to vote with Embury on this one. His has much more of a peachy nose and flavor than the bittered version, and is more its own unique drink than the other, which struck me as gin-with-garnish. Neither overwhelmed me with mintiness, but in the muddled version it was more noticeable. It also seemed to generate fewer flakes of leaf, for less of the spinach-tooth effect.

I would say that this is an unlooked-for victory, but, somewhat ironically, it’s more difficult to lay my hands on a decent peach brandy (i.e. not Mr. Boston’s) than it is to acquire the once-deceased peach bitters. I know of only one liquor store in Portland that carries the former — and that rather dearly — while there are at least two that I frequent that stock the entire line of Fee’s bitters at reasonable cost to the public.

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