Monthly Archives: March 2016

Dust off the Rusty Nails

It’s Easter this week, so we’re talking Rusty Nails.

Because I’m guessing the Romans weren’t so worried about tetanus when they decided to placement_of_nailsnail a bloke they disagreed with to a cross.

Despite years of effort from Religious Education teachers at my high school, I’m pretty hazy on detail about Easter.

Like what’s Monday all about?

I do know that Jesus’ importance is recognised by many of the world’s major religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism – and that by and large, Jesus seemed like a good bloke who would not be at all impressed with a great deal of the shit that goes down in his name nowadays.

And regardless of your religion or otherwise, I’m sure we can agree that nailing someone up for a long, painful and humiliating death is a bad thing.

Good news is that the origins of the Rusty Nail aren’t Pontius Pilate and his crew sitting around, drink in hand, watching the spectacle like it was a Sinatra concert.

23764966Although there are records of Scotch Whisky and Drambuie being combined in a glass as far back as 1937, it seems the cocktail as we now know it, was invented in the early 1960s at the 21 Club in Manhattan.

It couldn’t be easier to make.


3 or 4 parts Scotch Whisky (your choice – for this week’s 2016-03-20 16.55.04.jpgOne-for-the-Road Test, we used Dalmore 15 year old)

1 part Drambuie (a sweet, whisky-based liqueur made of a secret blend of aged Scotch
whisky, heather honey and spices – Drambuie says an apothecary whipped it up for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the early 18th century and he handed it on in thanks for safe harbour after the Battle of Culloden. Iain Banks says this is whiffle though and after reading The Wasp Factory, I am inclined to believe everything Iain Banks has to say. You should read this book).

Twist of lemon


Pour ingredients into a glass. Stir if you want. Enjoy.


Easy peasy.


See, the Rusty Nail is not a fashionable drink.

r-6431880-1419080544-8061-jpegIt was one of the drinks of choice of the Rat Pack in their Live at the Sands era. I’m listening to it now and Davis, Martin and Sinatra make great music but I am increasingly skipping over the dated patter between songs – something that was clearly hilarious to the 1963 Vegas audience shows up now as being just homophobic, sexist and racist.

The Rusty Nail‘s image is possibly unfairly tarnished by that association (also, in efforts to drive consumption levels back to the heady days of the 1970s, Drambuie seems to have engaged some really messed up creative advice – check out this 2012 commercial and try to sleep tonight).

The 21 Club does not even lay claim to its invention on their website – and bars love to brag about it when they have a claim to inventing a classic cocktail.

drambuieThe Rusty Nail hasn’t even had the post-Mad Men resurgence that many classics have had. You probably remember your grandparents having a dusty old bottle of Drambuie and you probably don’t remember anyone ever drinking it.

But you should, it’s good.

When we waved farewell to our baby-sitter on Saturday night and went out to do some field-testing, the first bar we went to – a serious bar with a serious cocktail list and serious bartenders (with and without beards serving more than 70 types of whisky/whiskey) – did not have a single bottle of Drambuie on the premises.

Not one. And you probably only need one.

I will definitely go back to this bar but in the name of research we had to head across the laneway to The Baxter Inn.

The Baxter Inn is one of those very cool places without a sign outside (whatever). Once you’ve finished wandering around like a fool trying to find the door, you are welcomed into a subterranean heaven for whisky drinkers.

Here we had more success. I asked the bartender (bearded, for those keeping track of such things) for a Rusty Nail and he didn’t bat an eye-lid, just set to work.

2016-03-19 19.33.43.jpgI asked him what whisky he favoured for it and he suggested the Glenlivet 12 year old.

He turned out a fine offering, albeit with an orange twist instead of lemon. But a perfectly fashioned orange twist. If I’m picky, tradition does call for an old fashioned glass.

The second round – an unbearded bartender – was less successful. No twist of lemon. Not even a twist of orange. Just a slice of orange.


(I did notice that The Baxter Inn also serves an Old Fashioned with a cherry – not a maraschino, but a cherry nonetheless – and you know my feelings on such matters).

But I am nothing if not open-minded (kind of) and will concede that the lemon/orange debate is a personal one.

My drinking companion and I came down on either side of the issue as we downed our delicious amber cocktails over bowls of pretzels and listened to the just-loud-enough jazz.

He likes orange, I like lemon. You choose what works for you, just remember how to make your twist.

And let me know what you decide.

Because we, dear Reader, are on a mission with this cocktail. To make it loved again.

To underline how uncool this drink currently is, in the opening scene of Better Call Saul, saul1we see Saul, collapsed in a chair after a long day at his new job managing a Cinnabon in Omaha, no longer Albuquerque’s most successful dodgy lawyer. As he watches his old commercials, he reminisces about his former fame and he drinks a Rusty Nail – of sorts.

We’ll get to his recipe in a moment, but we need to talk about Easter Eggs first.

See, in one of those lovely twists of Shake, Stir, Muddle fate, Saul’s new life which we see as he cradles our Easter cocktail – his version of a Rusty Nail – is an Easter Egg.

An Easter Egg is a device used in video games and on film – it’s like an intentional inside joke that we, the viewers and gamers are meant to go on a hunt for. You know, like an Easter Egg hunt.

In the last episode of Breaking Bad (no spoilers here, I promise), Saul tells Walt that if all goes well for him, the best he can hope for in a month is to be managing a Cinnabon in Nebraska.

And where does he end up? You got it.

Easter Eggs are everywhere.

Take a look at this from Raiders of the Lost Ark – in the hieroglyphics, you can see R2D2 and C3PO. I guess they were from a long time ago (albeit in a galaxy far, far away).


Alfred Hitchcock loved to make small appearances in each of his films. Pac-Man is in Tron. There are references to The Shining all through Toy Story. That ubiquitous R2D2 even shows up in 2009’s Star Trek 11. Take a look here for some more.


Saul uses a blended whiskey and lemon juice, but it’s definitely a Rusty Nail and if nothing else, his moustache will tell you how far this cocktail has to go before it sits alongside the Old Fashioned in the hearts of modern cocktail connoisseurs.

But I think we need to bring it back. That’s your job Muddlers.

In the spirit of Easter, let’s resurrect this sucker together.

Let me know how you go.



Bitter Tales

tumblr_m5f0omgjvn1rr6p72I’ve been guilty of a little hero worship on this site. I’ve focused on the big name booze that forms the basis of every cocktail and glossed over the importance of the other beautiful contributors.

But this week I’d like to focus on an unsung hero, one that I became interested in when writing about the Old Fashioned two weeks ago.


Not the aperitif bitters – like Campari, which although bitter to the palate is drinkable on its own – we’re talking about the smaller bottles that do for cocktails what spices do for cooking.

Without a few drops of Angostura Bitters, the Old Fashioned is just bourbon with a sugar cube. And yet we so often overlook these pungent little drops.

Bitters are liquid extractions or infusions of bark, herbs, seeds, roots, flowers, leaves and fruit and were originally used by apothecaries to cleanse the body of toxins and aid digestion.

Like me, you probably first heard of an apothecary in high school. The apothecary was the precursor to modern pharmacists – dispensing herbal 7b435793f92fe4690c4251dff54b49f4and chemical solutions to the old and infirm.  Like the buffoon from Romeo and Juliet.

“O true Apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.”

Romeo’s last words. Then yep, he died.

Or more cheerfully, like Miracle Max in possibly the greatest movie ever made – The Princess Bride. If you haven’t seen this 1987 movie, immediately go and watch it. If you have seen it and don’t like it, we’re going to need to rethink our relationship.

Thanks to science, bitters have been extracted from the medicine cabinet and put behind the bar but we must pay homage to the apothecaries for this fine work (and simultaneously ask the homeopaths to stop peddling the same pointless shit).

250px-john_keats_by_william_hiltonReferences to apothecaries appear as far back as ancient Babylon. Notable apothecaries include Nostradamus, Benedict Arnold and ludicrous over-achiever John Keats, the English poet who wrote, amongst other things, Ode to a Nightingale, To Autumn and Ode to Fanny, while completing his apothecary apprenticeship.

All before succumbing to tuberculosis at age 25.

I know as much about Keats as I know about any poet, thanks to high school English. In Year 10, Keats was the source of much mirth in my class thanks to his reference to panting lovers on the side of that Grecian Urn and of course because he had several works that legitimised repeated use of the word “Fanny” in class. Never not funny.

Not quite as good as Religious Education classes affording opportunities to make our male teacher explain circumcision to our all-girls’ class, but entertainment aplenty on a hot Brisbane afternoon.

While there has been some maturing of my humour in the Dictionary photo
intervening decades, when you see the quality of the material I was producing 1982, we’d all agree I’ve wasted a genuine comic talent.

See? Here’s my school dictionary – the very tome designed to help you spell words CORRECTLY.


Look, it was the 1980s, we were close to two decades away from having the advantage of Dawson’s Creek’s Joey Potter showing us how to be proper 16 year olds.

“She’s sixteen years old and so are you. We talk like we know what’s going on, but we don’t. We don’t have any idea. Look, we’re really young and we’re gonna screw up a lot! You know, we’re going to keep changing our minds and…and sometimes even our hearts…Don’t let yourself get so angry that you stop loving because one day you wake up from that anger and the person you love will be gone.”


Because, yes. That’s totally how 16 year olds talk. Go to any Westfield Food Court and listen.

nup-104663-0090No, all we had was Mallory from Family Ties and Denise Huxtable from Bill Cosby’s knitwear-clad perv-fest. We were adrift in a sea of hormones – something an apothecary might have given me some bitters for in centuries past had that not fallen out of fashion.

And even the cocktail use of bitters nearly disappeared from use last century.

Thanks to our old friend, Prohibition.

Bitters were so heavily in use during the P – to mask the flavour of the booze – that they fell out of fashion after the 21st Amendment and only three pre-Pro brands still exist – Angostura Bitters, Peychaud’s Bitters and one that died and was resurrected.

extinct-abbotts-bitters-and-tempus-fugit-abbotts-bittersThe fantastically-named Abbott’s Bitters.1439370916609

Seriously. If there aren’t a few bars in Canberra stocking that right now, that is a real opportunity missed.

Bitters have had a resurgence in popularity though and there are hundreds of good ones on the market with different flavour bases for different uses – orange, grapefruit, chocolate and even celery bitters for your Bloody Mary or Red Snapper. Try here, or here.

But the one that I guarantee you know the best is Angostura BittersCourtney Love and it has led me to today’s unsung hero, Doña Manuela Sáenz, a broad I would love to have had a drink with (in kind of the same way I’d like to have a drink with Courtney Love – because you just know something really bizarre is going to happen before you’ve paid your bill).

angosturabittersAngostura Bitters was invented in 1824 by Dr Johann Siegert in Venezuela.

Siegert was Surgeon-General for Simón Bolívar. Simón José Antonio de la Santísma Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios was a South American soldier who was instrumental in the continent’s revolutions against the Spanish empire.

Siegert created the bitters in the town of Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar) to treat tropical stomach ailments. Apparently many sailors would feel sick after their time on the Orinoco River and would feel less sick when they had the bitters.

Now as someone who gets horrendously seasick, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that some of the healing may have come from getting onto dry land, but that’s the tale anyway.

Angostura’s recipe is secret, but is apparently not from the root of the Angostura tree. It can be bought for less than $20 a bottle (and yes, the ill-fitting label is a design feature – it started as an administrative cock-up but is now a “signature feature”).

But Manuela.saenz1

Manuela was a Revolutionary and a Spy and Bolívar’s lover for the last eight years of his life. At age 26, Manuela ditched her lacklustre English husband and joined the rebels.

She saved Bolívar’s life twice by thwarting planned assassination attempts, including once by showing up at a Masquerade Ball she wasn’t invited to and making such a scene that Bolívar had to come out, thereby saving his life (see? There’s that Courtney Love thing).

For this, Bolívar gave her the nickname “the liberator of the Liberator”.

Manuela participated in some of the greatest battles of the revolution – as a combatant, sporting my old favourite, the fake moustache – and attained the rank of Colonel. Back in the cities, she would revert to the waist-cinching attire of a noblewoman and sniff out valuable intelligence under the guise of gossip.

There may or may not have also been a pet bear.

A true Renaissance woman (and read more about her and other kick-arse women at this fantastic site – Rejected Princesses from Jason Porath, former Dreamworks Animator who will soon have a book to go with his site about “Women too Awesome, Awful or Off-Beat for Kids’ Movies”).

Of course, Manuela died a pauper.

When Bolívar died in 1830, his enemies came to power in Colombia and Ecuador and she was unwelcome in those countries. She died in a diphtheria epidemic in Peru in 1856 and was buried in an unmarked, communal grave (where were the goddamned apothecaries then?).

Manuela was reburied in 2010, beside Bolívar’s grave in the National Pantheon of Venezuela, the final resting place for national heroes.

Given the nature of her original burial, some soil from the mass grave was treated as symbolic remains and it was those transported with much ceremony through Peru, Ecuador and Colombia before being given a full state funeral in Venezuela, 154 years after her death.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Manuela Sáenz – an unsung hero with every right to be


PS – Sit, Ubu, Sit. Good dog.

(Who knows where that’s from without looking it up?)

Here’s to you, Dick Bradsell

The downsides of having small children and liking cocktails are obvious.

The upside is that not only do I have a heightened sense of excitement every single time I enter a bar, but my adjusted sleep patterns have sparked some creativity.

Like whenever I have to test my party stamina that’s now more familiar with prFrench House, Sohoe-midday than post-midnight frivolity, I will order an Espresso Martini.

It’s not really a martini and should more accurately be ordered as a “Vodka Espresso” but it’s served in a martini glass and let’s not quibble over names.

Instead let’s pay homage to its creator, legendary London bartender Dick Bradsell who died over the weekend after more than 40 years of serving (and creating) cocktails.

I never had a cocktail made by Dick, but by all reports, he was the goods when it came to shaking, stirring and muddling and his legacy is an impressive list of well-known cocktails.

Legend has it that Bradsell invented the Vodka Espresso at Fred’s Club in 1984 when a now world-famous model (rumoured to be Naomi Campbell) requested a drink that would ‘wake me up, and then fuck me up’.

Hey presto, the Vodka Espresso was born.

50ml Vodka83914081657e5de230b96a68b8ff492b

5ml Sugar syrup

10ml Kahlua

10ml Tia Maria

1 short strong Espresso

Pour all ingredients into a shaker, and then add the ice. Shake hard, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with 3 coffee beans.

It’s often confused with the Black Russian – but Bradsell’s offering is different (and vastly superior in my view). The Black Russian contains vodka and coffee liqueur (like Kahlua or Tia Maria), but no coffee. It was reportedly invented in Brussels in the 1930s.

If you want to read more about Dick, here’s a great piece by Simon Difford from Difford’s Guide. It also includes a list of 30 cocktails Dick is credited with creating.

Cheers Dick Bradsell.