If you’re looking for the perfect cocktail for a night in or a gathering with friends, the Rusty Nail might just be the answer. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the history, ingredients, glassware, and step-by-step instructions to create the perfect Rusty Nail. So grab a dram of Scotch whisky and let’s get started.

The history of the Rusty Nail cocktail

Before we dive into the ingredients, it’s important to understand the history of the Rusty Nail cocktail. This iconic cocktail has been enjoyed for decades and is believed to have originated in the 1960s.

Legend has it that the Rusty Nail was created in a bar in Hawaii, where a group of American businessmen were looking for a way to make their Scotch whisky more palatable. They added a splash of Drambuie, and the Rusty Nail was born.

Over the years, the Rusty Nail has become a beloved classic cocktail, served in bars and restaurants around the world. While the recipe has evolved over time, the core flavors of Scotch whisky and Drambuie remain the same.

Origins and evolution

The original Rusty Nail was a simple mix of Scotch whisky and Drambuie, a Scottish liqueur made with honey and spices. The name “Rusty Nail” is said to come from the rusty nail that was used to stir the drink in its early days.

Today, there are many variations of the Rusty Nail, with some bartenders adding bitters or other liqueurs to the mix. Some even use different types of whisky, such as bourbon or rye, to give the cocktail a unique twist.

One popular variation is the “Smoky Nail,” which adds a smoky Islay whisky to the mix, giving the cocktail a rich, complex flavor.

Famous Rusty Nail drinkers and pop culture references

The Rusty Nail has been referenced in countless movies and TV shows, from Mad Men to The Sopranos. In the classic movie “The Apartment,” Jack Lemmon’s character is seen drinking a Rusty Nail while trying to impress his boss. Saul Goodman, the beloved character from the TV show “Breaking Bad” and its spinoff “Better Call Saul,” is known for his love of the Rusty Nail cocktail.

Celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were also known to enjoy a Rusty Nail or two in their day. In fact, it’s said that the Rat Pack would often order Rusty Nails when they were out on the town.

Today, the Rusty Nail remains a popular cocktail, enjoyed by whisky lovers around the world. Whether you prefer the classic recipe or a modern variation, there’s no denying the appeal of this timeless drink.

Ingredients needed for a Rusty Nail

Scotch whisky

No Rusty Nail is complete without a quality Scotch whisky. We recommend using a single malt Scotch whisky for the best flavor. Popular brands include Glenlivet, Macallan, and Lagavulin.

When it comes to choosing the perfect Scotch whisky for your Rusty Nail, it’s important to consider the flavor profile of the whisky. A Scotch with a smoky or peaty flavor, such as Lagavulin, can add a rich and complex dimension to your cocktail. On the other hand, a lighter and fruitier Scotch, such as Glenlivet, can provide a refreshing and crisp taste.


The second key ingredient in a Rusty Nail is Drambuie. This sweet and spiced Scottish liqueur balances out the bold flavors of the whisky. Make sure to choose a high-quality Drambuie for the best results.

Did you know that Drambuie is made from a secret blend of herbs, spices, and Scottish heather honey? This unique combination of ingredients gives the liqueur its distinct flavor and aroma.

Optional garnishes and variations

While the classic Rusty Nail only requires two ingredients, there are several optional garnishes and variations you can try. Some popular options include a twist of lemon or orange peel, a touch of bitters, or a splash of fruit juice.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also experiment with different types of Scotch and liqueurs to create your own unique twist on the Rusty Nail. For example, try using a peated Scotch with a spicy liqueur for a bold and smoky cocktail, or mix a lighter Scotch with a fruity liqueur for a refreshing and sweet drink.

Remember, the key to a great Rusty Nail is to balance the flavors of the Scotch and Drambuie, so don’t be afraid to adjust the ratios to suit your personal taste.

Choosing the right glassware

Traditional Old Fashioned glass

The most traditional glassware option for a Rusty Nail is an Old Fashioned glass. This short, wide glass is perfect for sipping on the classic cocktail.

The Old Fashioned glass is also known as a lowball glass or a rocks glass. It is typically made of thick glass and has a heavy bottom, which makes it perfect for muddling ingredients. The wide mouth of the glass allows for the aroma of the cocktail to be enjoyed while sipping.

When choosing an Old Fashioned glass, consider the size and weight. You want a glass that is comfortable to hold and not too heavy to lift when filled with ice and liquor.

Alternative glass options

If you don’t have an Old Fashioned glass on hand, don’t worry. A rocks glass or lowball glass can also be used to serve a Rusty Nail.

The rocks glass is similar to the Old Fashioned glass, but it is slightly taller and narrower. It is also made of thick glass and has a heavy bottom, making it perfect for muddling ingredients. The taller shape of the glass allows for a larger ice cube to be used, which can help keep the cocktail chilled without watering it down too quickly.

Another alternative glass option is a highball glass. This tall, narrow glass is typically used for cocktails that are served over ice and topped with soda or tonic water. While it may not be the traditional choice for a Rusty Nail, it can still be used to serve the cocktail. The taller shape of the glass allows for more ice to be used, which can help keep the cocktail chilled.

Ultimately, the choice of glassware comes down to personal preference. Whether you choose an Old Fashioned glass, a rocks glass, or a highball glass, the most important thing is that you enjoy your Rusty Nail in a glass that feels comfortable in your hand and allows you to savor the flavors of the cocktail.

Step-by-step guide to making a Rusty Nail

Measuring and pouring the ingredients

To make a delicious Rusty Nail, start by selecting your preferred Scotch whisky. There are many different types of Scotch, each with its own unique flavor profile, so take your time to choose one that you really enjoy.

Next, measure out 2 ounces of your selected Scotch whisky and ½ an ounce of Drambuie, a sweet liqueur that is made from Scotch whisky, honey, herbs, and spices. Pour the ingredients into a mixing glass or shaker.

Stirring and mixing techniques

Now that you have your ingredients ready, it’s time to start mixing! Add ice to the mixing glass or shaker and stir gently for about 30 seconds. This will help chill the cocktail without diluting it too much.

For a more complex and nuanced flavor, you can experiment with different stirring and mixing techniques. Some bartenders prefer to stir their Rusty Nail cocktails with a long-handled bar spoon, while others prefer to shake them vigorously in a shaker. Try both techniques and see which one you prefer!

Adding ice and garnishes

Once your Rusty Nail cocktail is properly chilled and mixed, it’s time to add the finishing touches. Strain the cocktail into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. This will help keep the cocktail cold and refreshing for longer.

For an extra touch of flavor and visual appeal, you can add a lemon twist or orange peel as a garnish. Alternatively, you can add a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg to give your Rusty Nail a warm, spicy finish.

Now that you know how to make a delicious Rusty Nail cocktail, it’s time to start experimenting with different types of Scotch whisky and garnishes to find your perfect combination. Cheers!

Tips for perfecting your Rusty Nail

Selecting the best Scotch whisky

The key to a great Rusty Nail is selecting a quality Scotch whisky. There are several factors to consider when choosing the right whisky for your cocktail. Firstly, consider the region where the whisky is produced. Each region has its own unique flavor profile, with some being smokier and peatier than others. For example, Islay whiskies are known for their intense smokiness, while Speyside whiskies tend to be lighter and fruitier.

Another factor to consider is the age of the whisky. Generally, the older the whisky, the smoother and more complex the flavors. However, older whiskies also tend to be more expensive. If you’re on a budget, don’t be afraid to experiment with younger whiskies to find one that suits your taste.

Adjusting the whisky-to-Drambuie ratio

The classic Rusty Nail recipe calls for equal parts Scotch whisky and Drambuie, but this ratio can be adjusted to suit your taste. If you find your Rusty Nail too strong, try adding more Drambuie to balance out the flavors. On the other hand, if your cocktail is too sweet, you can adjust it by adding more whisky.

It’s also worth noting that the type of Drambuie you use can have an impact on the flavor of your cocktail. Some brands of Drambuie are sweeter than others, so be sure to experiment with different brands to find the perfect balance.

Experimenting with additional flavors

While the classic Rusty Nail recipe is delicious on its own, don’t be afraid to get creative with your cocktail. There are several ways to add additional flavors to your Rusty Nail:

  • Try adding a splash of fruit juice, such as orange or pineapple, for a refreshing twist on the classic cocktail.
  • Experiment with different types of bitters to add complexity to your cocktail. A few dashes of Angostura bitters can add a subtle spice, while orange bitters can bring out the citrus notes in the whisky.
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, try infusing your Scotch whisky with herbs or spices. Rosemary, thyme, and cinnamon are all great options for adding depth and complexity to your cocktail.

Now that you know all the tips and tricks for making the perfect Rusty Nail, it’s time to start mixing. Whether you’re a Scotch whisky connoisseur or a first-time cocktail maker, this versatile drink is sure to impress.