According to cocktail authority Dale DeGroff, the invention of the Rusty Nail should be credited to bartenders at the 21 Club in Manhattan who came up with the idea sometime in the early 1960s.
The cocktail’s name was then settled in 1963 after one Gina MacKinnon, who was the chairwoman of the Drambuie Liqueur Company endorsed the moniker Rusty Nail. The drink hit popular culture thanks to the infamous Rat Pack taking a shine to it, creating a drinking trend.
Interestingly, there was no hint of the Rusty Nail in the first 28 years of commercial Drambuie production. Cocktail historian David Wondrich has traced the origin to something called a B.I.F. from 1937. Credited to a F. Benniman, the drink comprised three parts liquor to one-part liqueur, with a dash of Angostura bitters.
There were then a few other pretenders to the throne, including something called a Knucklehead in the upper Midwest of America that is probably best left alone. It wasn’t until the drink pretty much lost all semblance of ‘cocktail-ness’ – no more bitters or stirring – and became the epitome of simplicity that Wondrich says it became the popular drink that it was.
And so it was the short ingredients list, and easy construction (as Wondrich says: “there’s really no way to fuck this one up”) that combined to make this drink a classic.
- 60ml Blended Scotch whisky
- 15ml Drambuie
- Combine the Scotch and Drambuie in the glass, add lots of ice, and stir.
- NOTE: Blended Scotch is traditional, but other kinds can be used. Also, the quantities in the recipe are a rough ratio, some people prefer half and half for the sweetness – ask your customer what they prefer.
If you feel like putting a twist on the classic, there are plenty of spirits that can step into the place of the blended Scotch whisky. The Rusty Bob substitutes Bourbon, while the Smoky Nail and the Clavo Ahumado (which is, incidentally, Spanish for ‘smoky nail’) see Islay whisky and mezcal subbed in, respectively. Adding cold brew coffee will give you a Railroad Spike – with four parts coffee to one part Drambuie, served in a highball over ice. Oh and if you add Canadian rye whisky instead of Scotch you’ll get a Donald Sutherland. So now you know.