The rusty nail. Photo by iPhone.

The Rusty Nail. Photo by iPhone (miss you, Donna!).

“You’re gonna be a Scotch drinker,” my Grandma Rose said to me at the end of a Christmas dinner, with an approving smile.

I was all of about six years old. This was still the 1960s and everybody drank. I had asked for, and was given, a sip of my father’s after-dinner cordial, a tiny glass of Drambuie, and had claimed to like it. I did like it, in fact—unlike that nasty martini my father would often have (story of that first taste here). The Drambuie was syrupy sweet and I marveled at the way the alcohol seemed to blow up inside my mouth. Alas, a sip was all I would get. My tastes today, contrary to Rose’s prediction, run to bourbon, but I still love the flavor of Drambuie, the Scotch-based liqueur. It and the bottle bring me back to my childhood home on Norwood Road, and my aunt and uncle’s home on Blackmore Road, where Drambuie was often served. Indeed, the bottle pictured here was purchased by my father.

And it was my father who, many year later, when I was in my early twenties, asked me after a more ordinary weekend meal, if I’d like an after-dinner drink. “How about a Rusty Nail?” he asked.

“What’s a Rusty Nail?” I asked.

This made him happy, and he said, “Let me make you one!”

And so, about a quarter century ago, I had my first Rusty Nail. I loved everything about it, not least of which was the name. What a great name for a cocktail.

As I’m lacking here in Scotch-based cocktails, and thinking of my dad as the holidays approach (well, actually, my dear old dad, gone five years now, is never far from my thoughts), and feeling an urge for a warm, rich cocktail on a chilly Friday evening, home at last after being gone most of the fall, a Rusty Nail it is.

Make it as sweet or dry as you wish. Traditionally it is a 2 to 1 ratio of Scotch to Drambuie, which is how I prefer it. You want to be able to taste the Drambuie. Some prefer it dry, about 4 to 1. This is a matter of taste. Use an Islay-style single-malt and you have a variant, a Smoky Nail. A Rusty Nail can be served neat, but at our house it was always on the rocks.

Happy Friday, all!

The Rusty Nail

  • 2 ounces Scotch
  • 1 ounce Drambuie
  • 1 twist of lemon
  1. Combine the Scotch and Drambuie in an old-fashioned glass. Fill it with ice and garnish with a twist.

Other links you may like:

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.



9 Wonderful responses to “Friday Cocktail Hour: The Rusty Nail”

  • Dean

    Dewars? Well, I guess for someone who’s tastes run to bourbon, it’s a sensible choice. Also, there’s no sense using a more complex scotch in this drink because the nuance is lost in the herbal taste of the Drambuie and the lemon. JW Black is my go-to for blended Scotch drinks. Many years ago I had the pleasure of attending a Scotch tasting with my father, also departed. It was lead by the whiskey specialist, Michael Jackson who among many interesting stories, said that many of the top Scotch distillers thought JW Black was the best value for money among blended Scotches. So, Michael, I’ll join you in a Rusty Nail and offer a toast to our dads.

  • Mantonat

    One of my favorites – and also a drink, especially the aroma, that reminds me of my dad and the cocktail parties my parents would have when I was a kid.

  • Allen

    This is similar to one that I made up – with Irish whiskey and a splash of Irish mist.

    I like to use a twist of satsuma orange, so you can taste it. Sometimes a dash of bitters is in order.

    We call it the misty bush.

    Love that name.


  • dejavucook

    Oh dear lord (Godspell)! I ventured over here tonight to do some shopping and saw Rusty Nail. Dejavu! Love it. My Uncle in Boston introduced this drink to me when I was about 10/he was the only one drinking. But whenever I see this drink I remember him enjoying his cocktail before dinner. Life was quite a bit more classy back then.
    Thank you for all you do. Going shopping now.

  • joe N

    I always think of my grandfather when I drink a rusty nail. I think I’ll have one this evening. Thanks for the reminder, Michael.

  • Wilbur

    June of 2012, at the celebration dinner of my son’s graduation from medical school, my dad introduces my son to the rusty nail. An evening more memorable than most.
    I was wondering if/when you were going to get around to this one Michael. Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas.
    BTW, my apologies to Donna but you just nailed it with that iPhone photo!

  • Victoria

    This is a nice story about a good drink. The links you provided are good too. The Serious Eats article suggests using Famous Grouse instead of Dewar’s, which pleased me since Famous Grouse is the house blended whisky here. However, I do keep some Black Bottle Whisky on hand, and if you haven’t ever tried that, you might enjoy it. It’s a smokey blend of Islay single malts.

    My sweet father died a month shy of his 85th birthday in late October 2006. When I cleaned out his house, I found a number of bottles of Dewar’s; I assume they were Christmas and birthday presents he never opened. Around the same time, a friend of mine from Palm Springs picked a boatload of Meyer lemons from a tree in her yard and shipped them to me. I squeezed them all and froze the juice in half cup increments in Ziplock bags. (Yes, there was tons of juice.) That winter our Saturday night cocktail in frigid upstate New York was a Scotch sour with a hat-tip to my dad.


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