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.



7 thoughts on “Dust off the Rusty Nails

  1. Oh thank you Carolyn. I have loved a rusty nail aperitif since 1999 and have often found myself left wanting when I suggest it to others who look blankly at me and politely decline. I will have one this Easter and when I offer one to a friend, I simply won’t take no for an answer.

    1. I love this. I read one opinion that the Rusty Nail suffers because of its name – but I don’t buy that, given the horrendous names of some other cocktails that flourish. I think people have just not had the opportunity – go forth and educate!

  2. this is terrific as ever and i admire your dedication to thorough research. also, i haven’t thought about my favourite old drambuie joke since probably the early ’90s. let’s revisit that one soon.

  3. I award this post the 2016 CWood Lateral Humour Prize for Best Blog Opening Line Ever. You are right that nobody knows anything about Rusty Nails. Inspired by you my bloke ordered one at a (daggy, not very good) bar last night. The (bearded) bartender just said, ‘No.’ Bloke had to drink a Portuguese lager which looked disgusting. Happy easter to you.

  4. You open up new worlds for me with every blog Carolyn. You are the Brainpickings of alcohol.

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