This mix of Scotch and Drambuie makes a great pre- or post-dinner drink
The Rusty Nail Cocktail was a big hit in the mid-20th century. Not so much in the 21st.
That’s too bad, because the drink has lively, pleasant flavor – and color perfectly suited to autumn. It’s somewhat sweet, which makes it an ideal after-dinner drink. But not so sweet that you wouldn’t want to sip it before the prandial phase.
Or while cooking that Thanksgiving turkey.
The Rusty Nail is a mixture of blended Scotch whisky and Drambuie. Drambuie is a sweet Scotch-based liqueur flavored with heather honey, herbs, and spices (see Notes for more info).
You “build” this drink in a glass rather than stir or shake it. So it’s an easy drink to make.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare and serves 1.
- 2 ounces Scotch whisky (we prefer a blended Scotch; see Notes)
- ½ to 1 ounce Drambuie (very much to taste; see Notes)
- lemon peel or twist for garnish (very optional)
- Add ice to a rocks glass. Add the Scotch and Drambuie.
- Stir to combine. Garnish, if you wish, and serve.
- How much Drambuie to use in this drink? We like a ratio of anywhere from 4:1 to 2:1 Scotch to Drambuie, depending on our mood. Some people like a 1:1 ratio, which is too sweet for us. But if sweet’s your jam, go for it.
- We suggest taste testing: Start with ½ ounce of Drambuie to 2 ounces Scotch (a 4:1 ratio), then add more Drambuie if you think the drink needs it.
- BTW, Drambuie is also good served by itself on the rocks. It’s sweet, though, so we reserve that pleasure for after dinner. Or for slow sipping on a lazy afternoon.
- What Scotch to use? We usually opt for a fairly inexpensive blended Scotch when making cocktails – Teacher’s Highland Cream and Famous Grouse are our favorites. They taste much better than you’d expect, given their price.
- If you want a more expensive blended Scotch, you could try Monkey Shoulder or Haig Dimple (aka Pinch).
- Or you could use an even more expensive single-malt Scotch if you prefer. The taste is much better (though we think it’s overkill for cocktails).
- Our usual disclaimer: We’re noncommercial and are not compensated for naming brands. We suggest only what we use and like. And buy with our own money.
- So what’s the history of Drambuie? It’s hard to be sure because so much marketing hype has proliferated around the drink (as is often the case with anything alcohol related). The liqueur supposedly dates to the mid-1700s, though its production can only be traced back as far as the 1880s. That’s when a Scottish hotelier named James Ross began tinkering with a recipe that he eventually called “Drambuie” (reportedly deriving the name from a Gaelic phrase meaning “the drink that satisfies”). Ross’s heirs eventually sold the recipe to the MacKinnon family, who began producing it commercially in 1910.
- Along the way, though, some whopping good tales arose surrounding the origins of the liqueur. The tales supposedly derive from family legend – but somehow manage to incorporate well-known figures and thrilling details from Scottish history. How fortunate! We chat about some of those stories at the end of this post.
- How about the history of the Rusty Nail Cocktail? It probably was born sometime during the 1930s. But it reached the zenith of its popularity during the 1960s – in large part because it was a favorite drink of the infamous Rat Pack (members of which included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop).
- Since then, the drink’s popularity has declined. That’s a shame. Time for a revival, we say!
“Great drink!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “And the tales surrounding Drambuie are even better.”
“Indeed,” I said. “Return with us now to 1688 and the heady days of the Glorious Revolution, when England turfed out King James II (of the House of Stuart), replacing him with his more pliable daughter Mary and her husband, a Dutch prince named William.”
“Right,” said Mrs K R. “William and Mary were happy with their new estate (England being less prone to flooding than The Netherlands). But the Stuarts were highly annoyed and schemed to reclaim the throne.”
“Yup, and in 1745, James II’s grandson, Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie) decided to invade England,” I said. “Even though it was a lot colder than Rome, where he had been born and raised in exile. No accounting for taste.”
“He needed help though, since most of his experience up to that point involved taking part in family whinging about the lost throne,” said Mrs K R. “So he turned to the Scots, many of whom still supported the Stuart cause.”
“Despite their assistance, Bonnie Prince Charlie came a cropper at the Battle of Culloden in 1746,” I said. “He was so clueless that he fought on open ground with no cover. The British forces probably couldn’t believe their luck.”
“So the bonnie prince yelled ‘run away, run away,’ which was wise under the circumstances,” said Mrs K R. “He fled to the Isle of Skye, disguised as a lady’s maid. Which must have been a torment to him, since he had to wear a long skirt instead of a short kilt, and thus couldn’t show off his shapely calves.”
“And on the Isle of Skye the prince enjoyed the hospitality of Clan MacKinnon,” I said. “Such a coincidence – MacKinnon being the name of the family that eventually bought the Drambuie recipe and recounted the stirring legend surrounding it. Funny how that works.”
“Wondrous, no?” said Mrs K R. “And while on the Isle of Skye, the prince gave John MacKinnon the recipe for his favorite tipple, which turned out to be Drambuie. Though it didn’t have a name then, for some reason. And the recipe remained unknown to the world for more than 100 years thereafter, despite its delicious taste and heroic provenance.”
“Then in the late 19th century, the MacKinnon clan, being extremely generous, gave the recipe to John Ross, no payment required,” I said. “His son, James Ross, started tinkering with the formula – which for some reason originally had a brandy base.”
“I guess the bonnie prince was confused about Scotland’s national drink,” said Mrs K R. “Having grown up on the Continent and all. In any case, James Ross changed the liqueur’s base to Scotch and gave it the name Drambuie.”
“But alas, the family Ross fell on hard times and had to sell the recipe,” I said. “And who did they sell it to? A family by the name of MacKinnon – who went on to market it around the world. Amazing!”
We’re sure you’ll agree that this all sounds totally legit, right? So let’s raise a glass to Bonnie Prince Charlie – and the marketing creativity of Clan MacKinnon.
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- Rob Roy Cocktail
- Bobby Burns Cocktail
- Penicillin Cocktail
- Blood and Sand Cocktail
- Cocktail Basics
- Or check out the Index for more