The classic Rusty Nail Cocktail recipe is a timeless and elegant concoction of Scotch whisky and Drambuie. It’s been around since Prohibition and is as popular as ever.
There’s a great little story behind the name of this cocktail. Although its exact origin is a bit murky (as with so many classic cocktails), one popular legend links it to the British Royal Navy. Sailors would mix Drambuie (a sweet, honey and herb infused Scottish liqueur), with their daily ration of Scotch whisky. They named it Rusty Nail after the practice of stirring their drinks with a rusty nail. Now don’t worry, absolutely no actual rusty nails are used in the making of this cocktail nowadays.
Now let me take you on a little trip down memory lane. I first stumbled upon the Rusty Nail at this adorable, retro-chic cocktail bar during a trip to San Francisco with my college girlfriends. We had just exhausted ourselves (and our wallets) shopping in Union Square and were on a mission to track down the perfect wind-down cocktail. Little did we know, we were about to make the acquaintance of the Rusty Nail. Since, the Rusty Nail has been one of the star cocktails at every party I’ve hosted. So give the Rusty Nail a try, you won;t regret it and it might end up being the scene-stealer at your next soirée too!
Different Scotches have different flavor profiles. Choosing the right one for you comes down to your own taste. (See the FAQ section for more.)
- 1 1/2 oz. Scotch whisky
- 3/4 oz. Drambuie liqueur
- ice cubes
- lemon twist or orange twist (for garnish)
- A mixing glass or a cocktail shaker – to mix the ingredients and chill
- A strainer – to remove any glass bits
- A bar spoon – for stirring the mixture
- A rocks glass – to serve the cocktail
- A jigger or measuring tool – to measure the Scotch and Drambuie
Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Add the Scotch and Drambuie to the glass.
Stir the mixture gently for 20-30 seconds to ensure the ingredients are well combined and chilled.
Strain the cocktail into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice cubes.
Garnish your Rusty Nail with a lemon or orange twist: Take a strip of lemon or orange peel, twist it over the glass to release the oils, and drop it into the cocktail.
Tips and Tricks
Quality Ingredients Make a Difference: I recommend using a good Scotch whiskey. Trust me, you will notice the difference.
The Importance of Dilution: Give your mix a good stir for about 20-30 seconds. You want it cool and just right, not watered down.
Adjusting the Ratio for Your Tastes: The usual Rusty Nail ratio is two parts Scotch to one part Drambuie. But nobody said you can’t play around. You can go for 3:1 or 4:1 for a more Scotch-y drink. And if you want a sweeter drink, An equal part mix might just do the trick!
Garnishing with Flair: Make sure to get the citrus oils sprayed over the cocktail before dropping it in. I also like bathing the glass rim in your garnishing peels for an extra citrus zing.
Serve the Rusty Nail in Style: I like chilling your rocks glass before serving. It keeps my Rusty Nail icy cold but also makes it clear I am not playing around when it comes to serving up a killer cocktail.
Low-Carb Rusty Nail: Swap out that Drambuie with some homemade low sugar honey and herb syrup. You can do that by mixing water, a sugar substitute like erythritol or stevia, and your favorite herbs (rosemary or thyme are my go-to’s!).
Bourbon Nails: Trade that Scotch for some bourbon, and you’ve got a classic American spin on your Rusty Nail. And while you have the bourbon out, why not whip up a batch of these Pumpkin Sugar Cookies with Bourbon Cinnamon Frosting?
Smoky Nail: Want something with a kick? Break out some seriously peaty Islay Scotch for your Rusty Nail. It’ll dial up the smokiness in your drink.
Rusty Honey: If you’re all about that sweet life, add a splash of honey liqueur, like Bärenjäger, to your usual Rusty Nail mix.
Spicy Nail: Want some pizzazz? A few drops of spicy bitters like chili or chipotle complement the sweetness of the Drambuie. A Scottish version of my fiery Spicy Margarita!
The history of this drink is a bit fuzzy. It was popular during the Prohibition era, but the Rusty Nail name didn’t really come into play until the swingin’ ’60s. It attained its “superstar” status when it became the drink of choice at New York City’s iconic 21 Club.
A standard Rusty Nail will set you back 160-190 calories – but that will change depending on the brands, ratios, and how big your servings are.
Smooth and smoky scotch works a treat. But if you like a super smoky vibe, an Islay single malt Scotch is your go-to. Or, for a lighter taste, use a Speyside or Highland blend.
Using bourbon or Irish whiskey could be a totally fun switch, but just know it’ll give your cocktail a completely different personality from the classic Rusty Nail.
How to Make a Rusty Nail Ahead Of Time
To make Rusty Nails ahead of time, multiply your ingredients, mix up your Scotch and Drambuie, and keep it in a bottle or airtight jar for when your friends start arriving. Then just store it anywhere cool and away from sunlight to keep those intense flavors.
Once you’re ready to get the party started, pour your stored mix over ice in a mixing glass, give it a little stir, and pour into a chilled glass with some fresh ice. Don’t forget the lemon or orange twist to garnish!
Rusty Nail Cocktail Recipe
- 1 1/2 oz. Scotch whisky
- 3/4 oz. Drambuie liqueur
- ice cubes
- lemon twist or orange twist for garnish
Fill a mixing glass or cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Add the Scotch and Drambuie to the glass
Stir the mixture gently for 20-30 seconds to ensure the ingredients and their flavors are well combined and chilled.
Strain the cocktail into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice cubes. This will ensure the cocktail stays cold while you enjoy it.
Garnish your Rusty Nail cocktail with a lemon twist or an orange twist. To do this, take a strip of lemon or orange peel, twist it over the glass to release the oils, and drop it into the cocktail.
- When it comes to choosing your Scotch, smooth and smoky works a treat. But if you like a super smoky vibe, an Islay single malt Scotch is your go-to. Or, for a lighter taste, reach out for a Speyside or Highland blend.