The rain is coming down in sheets, the wind is howling and it’s cold (at least for the Bay Area). Time to light a fire, relax, play some cards or read a good book. But what cocktail to have? This would be a good time for a toddy or old fashioned, maybe a Manhattan. But this is also a perfect time to break out that bottle of Drambuie gathering dust in the back of your bar, grab some blended Scotch and make the almost-forgotten classic, the Rusty Nail.
The Rusty Nail combines blended Scotch, Drambuie and (sometimes) a lemon twist. It it one of the easiest cocktails to make and is served up or on the rocks. The only issue with the Rusty Nail is getting the Drambuie if you don’t already have some hiding away. Drambuie is one of the few Scotch-based liqueurs and it tastes like sweetened Scotch with notes of honey, heather, citrus and spice. Drambuie doesn’t always play well with other spirits, but it does go well with Scotch. The honey and citrus soften the hard, smokey edges of Scotch and make it sippable. To some degree, in the Rusty Nail the Drambuie modifies the Scotch in a similar way to dry vermouth with gin in the Martini, or sweet vermouth with whiskey in a Manhattan. The base spirit still leads the drink, but no longer punches you in the face. Kinder, gentler booze.
As noted, the Rusty Nail is very easy to make. The only question is the ratios. Some recipes suggest equal portions of blended Scotch and Drambuie, some 2 to 1 and some 4 to 1. We like a 4 to 1, but it will depend on your tastes and the Scotch you use. The cool thing is that you can just add more Scotch or Drambuie as needed. Some recipes also suggest using a single-malt Scotch for the Rusty Nail, and while it’s very good, we will save our single-malts to serve on their own or in toddies. And finally, some recipes use a lemon twist, some don’t. We like a touch of citrus in most drinks and this is no exception. The aroma of the lemon with the Scotch adds an extra dimension.
And then you have the history of the Rusty Nail. As Drambuie is only about 100 years old, the Rusty Nail is a somewhat recent creation. Drambuie and Scotch cocktails started showing up in the 1930s with various names. Cocktail historian David Wondrich mentions several names for this drink including the “B.I.F.” and, even better, the “Knucklehead”. We kind of like Knucklehead (having sometimes behaved like one). But, not surprisingly, the marketing folks at Drambuie backed the “Rusty Nail” and the name stuck. And the Rusty Nail was a very popular cocktail from the 1950s to the 1970s, but then its popularity faded as darker spirits lost favor.
Nowadays the Rusty Nail is having something of a comeback. Craft and classic cocktail bars are serving the Rusty Nail (or variations) and Drambuie started to market itself, and its classic cocktail, to new audiences. Drambuie still isn’t cheap, but if you like whiskey, particularly Scotch, it is worth finding. And if you are looking for a strong, sweet and boozy (but not too boozy) sip, the Rusty Nail is a very good choice and a welcome diversion from old fashioneds and Manhattans.
The Rusty Nail:
- 2 oz. blended Scotch (the Famous Grouse)
- 1/2 oz. Drambuie
- Lemon twist
- Add the Scotch and Drambuie to a cocktail glass with some ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into an old fashioned glass with ice, or strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Twist the lemon peel over the drink, add the peel to the cocktail and serve.