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Rusty Nail could hammer the unwary

Drambuie has long had a claim as a drink of the rich and sophisticated. Legend has it that the liqueur had its first champion in Bonnie Prince Charlie, who handed off the secret recipe to a Scottish loyalist as he lammed it to France disguised as a maid.

Introduced to the U.S. after Prohibition, the liqueur of Scotch whisky, honey and spices was quickly established as a “fascinating” and elegant tipple at swanky nightspots. When a columnist for the Hartford (Conn.) Courant jokingly suggested in 1968 that you could gauge people’s affluence and social status by the quality of their trash, he assigned high points to Drambuie empties.

And yet somewhere along the way, the liqueur seemed to lose its luster, as the signature Drambuie drink – the Rusty Nail – fell into disrepute.

Combining Scotch-based Drambuie with Scotch doesn’t require a doctorate in mixology, and the drink was around long before it was christened a Rusty Nail. Like B&B for a drink of Benedictine and brandy, a glass of Drambuie and Scotch was originally known as a D&S. But somewhere in the late ’50s or early ’60s, the concoction gained its new name and a new fashionability. The drink became enough of a phenomenon that in 1965 the Drambuie company trademarked “Rusty Nail” as a drink of Scotch whisky and the liqueur.

The Rusty Nail was a favorite of swingers – that last gasp of finger-poppin’ decadence before hippies displaced hipsters. The drink has never fully escaped that dubious association in America.

And yet, the Scotch whisky liqueur category that Drambuie dominates has still managed to attract new contenders. Macallan is selling a sweet dram called Amber, and an upstart Scottish firm, the Leith Liqueur Co., will soon be exporting an alarmingly pink whisky cordial called Strawberry Kiss.

As you might guess from the names of these offerings, the new whisky liqueurs have a target audience, and it isn’t men. There are marketers of Scotch who think that women can be wooed away from vodka-based candy-tinis only by being given Wonka-fied whisky.

Whichever brand you use, to make your Rusty Nail, be sure to up the proportion of whisky to liqueur well beyond the original 1:1 ratio.


1 1/2 ounces Scotch whisky

1/2 ounce Drambuie or your favorite whisky liqueur

Combine with ice in a short glass. Some prefer to float the liqueur on top of the whisky. Garnish with lemon peel.

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