The Rusty Nail is a basic blend of Scotch and the Scottish liqueur Drambuie. An amazingly simple drink, the Rusty Nail rounds out the classic triumvirate with the Manhattan and the Rob Roy. Judging from the number of drinks made with Scotch, this spirit never ceases to inspire elaborate and dizzying recipes, but the Rusty Nail is evidence that less is truly more. Drambuie is a Gaelic word for “the drink that pleases,” and the liqueur is distilled from Scotch whisky. It was first produced on the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides, supposedly from a recipe handed down by the 18th-century pretender to the British throne Bonnie Prince Charlie. And nothing could be less Scottish, save the recipe.
The Rusty Nail is a strictly American invention that became fashionable in the 1950s with people who wanted their Scotch without the bite of a Rob Roy. The name seems to indicate a fierceness, but the honeyed characteristic of Drambuie imparts a mellow tone. It is said that the Rusty Nail was named by one of several Scottish bartenders who repaid the incivility of loud American customers by stirring this drink with a rusty nail. One look at this ruddy amber cocktail would indicate the actual, albeit mundane, source of its name.
The essence of a Rusty Nail is its reddish glow. To appreciate it fully, serve it in fine cut crystal with the clearest ice made from bottled water. The Rusty Nail is not served with a garnish.