Rusty Nail

Cold evenings call for a rich and comforting cocktail. This scotch-based, two-ingredient recipe for a Rusty Nail cocktail is like a warm blanket in a glass.

Rusty Nail Garnished with a Lemon Peel with Ingredients in the Background

Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

The Rusty Nail is a cocktail you’ve likely heard of (who could forget a name like that?) but may not have tried. Let’s fix that! With a smoky base and a sweet, honeyed liqueur partner, this 2-ingredient cocktail makes a pleasant nightcap or pre-dinner drink. 

Growing up, I saw the Rusty Nail as a fixture at the poker table where my uncles, grandfathers, and their friends would gather. Enjoyed over ice, this boozy cocktail was served strong and only in the evening hours. I’d argue it still makes for a great wind-down drink. 

With its smoky scotch base, sweetened slightly with Drambuie—a scotch-based liqueur with a strong spiced honey flavor which also boasts an ABV of 40% (the same percentage as most liquors)—the Rusty Nail is best enjoyed over ice, sipped slowly to curb its boozy punch.

History of the Rusty Nail

This simple pairing of scotch and Drambuie has been a popular tipple dating as far back as the 1930s—albeit in slightly different proportions and with a few extra ingredients that came and went depending on who was making the drink. 

The modern, 2-ingredient version of the recipe was firmly established by the 1960s and grew into a bar mainstay in the 1970s. As with many cocktails that had their heyday in the 70s, the Rusty Nail withdrew from the spotlight during the 80s and 90s and became something of a relic. But don’t let that prevent you from making this classic drink.

Rusty Nail on a Granite Coaster Garnished with Lemon Peel

Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

The Key Ingredients

Drambuie’s very rich honey flavor is also lightly spiced with herbs like anise, clove, and saffron. Pairing it with a bold, smoky scotch gives balance to its sweet flavor. 

While a blended scotch is always best for mixing, they don’t all perform the same here. A very mild scotch won’t provide the contrast needed—I’d lean towards a smokier scotch for a richer experience. Try The Famous Grouse Smoky Black for a great balance of smoke with a smooth taste.

Upgrade Your Rusty Nail Cocktail

If you’re looking to further round out the drink and add another layer of spicy flavor here, 2 dashes of Angostura bitters will subtly balance the drink. Is it necessary? No, but just as salt will enhance and balance your food, aromatic bitters can really punch up a drink’s flavor without drawing attention to itself. 

You can also squeeze (or “express” in bar terms) a 1/2-inch wide piece of lemon peel over the drink to give just a touch of floral aroma to the drink and brighten it up. 

Rusty Nail on a Granite Coaster Garnished with Lemon Peel

Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

Cocktails with 3 Ingredients or Less

Rusty Nail

Prep Time 3 mins
Total Time 3 mins
Serving 1 serving
Yield 1 cocktail

The measurements below give a balance between the smoky scotch and the sweet Drambuie, but feel free to play around with proportions if you’d like yours more or less sweet or smoky.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces blended scotch

  • 1/2 ounce Drambuie

  • 1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters, optional

  • Lemon peel for garnish, optional

Method

  1. Combine the ingredients and stir:

    In a mixing glass filled 2/3 with ice, pour in the scotch and Drambuie. Add the bitters (if using). Stir to chill and dilute the drink for about 20 seconds.

  2. Strain, garnish, and serve:

    Strain into a rocks glass with 1 large or 2 to 3 small ice cubes. 

    Lightly squeeze a lemon peel, with the outside of the peel pointed down towards the glass, and then add it to the glass as a garnish or discard. Serve.

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    Rusty Nail Poured into a Glass with an Ice Cube

    Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

    Lemon Peel Lightly Squeezed Towards Rusty Nail Cocktail

    Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

    Rusty Nail Garnished with a Lemon Peel

    Simply Recipes / Elana Lepkowski

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
174 Calories
0g Fat
0g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1
Amount per serving
Calories 174
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 0g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 0mg 0%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 1mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.