This mid century classic cocktail provides a harmonious blend of smoky undertones with a hint of sweetness. Crafted with Scotch whisky and a honey-infused Scotch whisky liqueur, it has become a favorite among those who enjoy the distinctive flavor of Scotch.
This mid 20th century classic cocktail combines Scotch whisky and a Scotch liqueur for a double dose of Scotch goodness!
This Mid Century Favorite Has a Long History
If you like Scotch, then you'll like this classic Rusty Nail cocktail, which is as iconic as the Rat Pack itself. This approachable drink, served in a rocks glass, is the embodiment of elegance and sophistication. It is the perfect cocktail!
The Rusty Nail is a relative newcomer to the scene, as it appears to have been created in the early 1960s in a famous New York City bar. It quickly gained popularity among legendary figures like Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, solidifying its place in the annals of cocktail history, and has had a good run ever since. The name itself, inspired by a mostly forgotten relic of British industries, speaks volumes about its rugged charm.
Liqueur Made with Scotch and Honey Has to Be Good
Drambuie, the whisky liqueur that gives the Rusty Nail its characteristic sweetness, is a blend of Scotch whisky, heather honey, and secret herbs and spices. The heather honey provides a depth of flavor while allowing the Scotch to shine through, creating the perfect balance of sweet and smoky.
The Few Ingredients Needed to Make a Rusty Nail
Technically this is a duo cocktail, meaning that there are only two ingredients needed to make it. It's very simple:
- Your favorite quality Scotch whisky
- Drambuie liqueur, the sweet, blended Scotch-based liqueur
- Curly strip of lemon twist for garnish, although some people recommend an orange peel or orange twist
Some modern versions of the Rusty Nail recipe call for equal parts smoky Scotch and sweet Drambuie, or even a dash of orange bitters, but I prefer the classic recipe with the more simple combination of scotch and one part Drambuie so that I get the full effect of the smoky whisky.
Bar Tools Needed
You don't need many bar tools to mix this simple cocktail, just use the following basics:
- Mixing glass (no cocktail shaker needed)
- Bar spoon
- Bar knife
How to Make a Rusty Nail Cocktail
Since this drink only has two ingredients, just follow these simple directions:
- Place a handful of fresh ice cubes into a mixing glass
- Pour in a couple of ounces of blended Scotch whisky
- Add ¾ ounces Drambuie
- Stir for about 20-30 seconds to chill the drink
- Place a large ice cube into your glass
- Strain the drink into the glass and add a lemon peel for garnish
I recommend using a single jumbo square or round ice cube to keep this slow-sipping drink cold while you enjoy it.
Tips for a Successful Rusty Nail
This Scotch throwback drink has stayed around because it was so tasty and yet so simple to put together. But keep these points in mind to make a great Drambuie cocktail:
- The key to a truly exceptional Rusty Nail is in selecting the best Scotch whisky for the drink. For a balanced and approachable experience, opt for a quality Scotch like Johnnie Walker or Famous Grouse.
- If you're looking to add a smoky twist to your drink, consider a single malt Scotch from the Isle of Skye, a region steeped in spirit history. William Grant & Sons have mastered the art of crafting exceptional Scotch which makes it a great choice when deciding what to reach for when crafting your cocktail.
- Always mix with spirits that you would drink neat, meaning never mix with an inferior spirit and hope that the other ingredients will cover it up. They won't. My golden rule is that if I wouldn't drink it or serve it to guests on its own, then I won't mix with it either.
- If you prefer a sweeter drink, add a little more Drambuie than the recipe calls for (about an ounce instead of ¾ ounce).
Frequently Asked Questions
Remember to take all cocktail origin stories with a grain of salt! One story claims that back in the old days, the bartender used an actual rusty nail to stir the drink with, and that is how the name stuck. Others put it down to the drink's color. Either way, the drink's name is just part of its fun.
Since I will be mixing with it, I'll use a good quality Scotch whiskey that you can normally find at your local grocery store or liquor store, such as Johnnie Walker Black. It tastes great and is reasonably priced.
Drambuie is a sweet whisky liqueur made from a blend of Scotch whisky, secret spices, herbs and heather honey. It was created for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the 18th century. The name comes from Scots Gaelic 'A Dram Buidheach' and means 'The drink that satisfies'. It has a colorful history of owners and keepers of the secret recipe. Gina MacKinnon of the MacKinnon clan encouraged her fiancé to buy the failing business and create the Drambuie Liquor Company.
It's nice to see this elegant, old fashioned drink is still a favorite with the modern cocktail set. The naturally low-carb Rusty Nail is a great drink to enjoy before dinner. Here are some variations on the drink that you might like to try if you like Scotch cocktails:
- Check out our Manhattan cocktail and substitute Scotch as the key ingredient, and you'll have a Rob Roy.
- Mix the Rusty Nail up with a peated single malt Scotch and a little less Drambuie and you'll have a Smoky Nail.
- Add a splash of cherry liqueur to the Rusty Nail recipe, and you'll have a Rusty Compass with additional sweet notes.
After enjoying a few of these drinks, you'll probably decide to keep a bottle of Drambuie in your home bar going forward. It always makes a great drink!
Before you go, did you try this cocktail? Why not leave a comment in the comments section along with a rating? I always appreciate hearing from you and getting your feedback.
The Rusty Nail is Double Scotch and Honey Goodness.
- 1.5 ounces blended Scotch whisky
- ¾ ounce Drambuie
- Lemon peel garnish
- Place a handful of fresh ice cubes in a mixing glass.
- Pour the Scotch and the Drambuie into the mixing glass.
- Stir 20-30 seconds to mix.
- Place a large ice cube in a rocks glass and strain the cocktail over it.
- Top with a lemon twist for garnish.