Rusty Nail: Easy 2-Ingredient Cocktail [Ultimate Guide]

Fond of whisky? You’ll love the Rusty Nail.

What is a Rusty Nail?

The Rusty Nail cocktail is a classic mixed drink that seamlessly blends the smoky, robust flavor of Scotch whisky with the sweet, herbaceous notes of Drambuie, a honeyed whisky liqueur. Traditionally served in an old-fashioned lowball rocks glass, this cocktail is garnished with a twist of lemon zest to add a citrusy aroma. The Rusty Nail is renowned for its simple yet sophisticated whiskey-forward flavor profile, making it a perfect choice for various occasions.

  • Ingredients: Scotch Whisky, Drambuie
  • Glass: Lowball glass (aka rocks glass or old-fashioned glass)
  • Garnish: Lemon zest
  • Flavor Profile: Smoky, sweet, herbaceous
  • Occasions: Versatile, suitable for various events
  • Appeal: Favored by whisky enthusiasts for its simplicity and elegance


The Rusty Nail cocktail enjoys popularity due to its appealing balance of Scotch whisky’s smokiness with the sweet complexity of Drambuie. Its simplicity in preparation, requiring no special techniques or equipment, makes it accessible to both home bartenders and professionals. The drink’s rich history, often associated with the golden era of cocktail culture, adds a nostalgic charm. Its versatility in pairing with various occasions and moods, from casual gatherings to formal events, also contributes to its widespread appeal. The Rusty Nail remains a timeless classic, continuing to delight cocktail enthusiasts around the world.

  • Balance of Flavors: Perfect harmony of smoky whisky and sweet Drambuie.
  • Ease of Preparation: Simple to make, no complex techniques needed.
  • Historical Charm: Linked to the golden era of cocktails.
  • Versatile Pairing: Suitable for many occasions and settings.
  • Global Appeal: Continues to be a favorite in the cocktail community.

Flavor Profile

The Rusty Nail cocktail presents a harmonious blend of flavors, characterized by the peaty, earthy undertones of Scotch whisky and the sweet, spicy notes of Drambuie. This combination creates a rich, full-bodied drink with a smooth, lingering finish. The lemon zest garnish adds a subtle citrusy aroma, enhancing the overall sensory experience. Its drinkability is high, appealing to both seasoned whisky drinkers and those new to spirit-forward cocktails, thanks to its balanced sweetness and smoky depth.

  • Primary Flavors: Peaty Scotch whisky, sweet and spicy Drambuie.
  • Sensory Experience: Rich, full-bodied with a smooth finish.
  • Garnish Effect: Lemon zest adds a fresh, citrus aroma.
  • Drinkability: High appeal for a wide range of palates.
  • Balance: Perfect interplay of sweetness and smoky depth.


The Rusty Nail cocktail is crafted using two key ingredients: Scotch whisky and Drambuie. Typically, it’s made with 1.5 oz (45 ml) of Scotch whisky and 1 oz (30 ml) of Drambuie. This ratio can be tweaked to suit individual taste preferences, with some preferring a stronger whisky presence or a sweeter touch.

The choice of Scotch whisky can vary, ranging from a mild blend to a more peaty single malt, depending on the drinker’s preference, further personalizing this classic cocktail.

Drambuie is a golden-colored, sweet liqueur made from Scotch, honey, herbs, and spices.

  • Main Ingredients: Scotch whisky and Drambuie.
  • Measurements: 1.5 oz (45 ml) Scotch whisky, 1 oz (30 ml) Drambuie (flexible).
  • Customizable Ratio: Adjust to personal taste.
  • Whisky Varieties: Choice ranges from mild blends to peaty single malts.

Ingredient Substitutes

For those looking to experiment with the Rusty Nail cocktail, various substitutes can be used. Instead of Scotch whisky, try a bourbon or Irish whiskey for a different profile. If Drambuie isn’t available, a honey liqueur or another herbal liqueur could provide a similar sweetness and complexity. However, it’s important to note that these substitutes will alter the classic taste of the Rusty Nail, offering a new twist on the traditional recipe. This flexibility allows mixologists to adapt the drink to different tastes and available ingredients.

  • Whisky Substitute: Bourbon or Irish whiskey for a different flavor.
  • Drambuie Alternative: Honey liqueur or herbal liqueur.
  • Taste Variation: Substitutes offer a new twist on the classic.
  • Flexibility: Adaptable to different tastes and ingredient availability.

Ingredient Proportions

The Rusty Nail cocktail needs to balance the robustness of Scotch whisky with the sweetness of Drambuie. A classic ratio is 45 ml (1.5 oz) of Scotch whisky to 30 ml (1 oz) of Drambuie. This ratio ensures that the smoky whisky notes are pronounced but harmoniously complemented by the herbal sweetness of Drambuie. However, these proportions can be adjusted to suit personal preferences, with some favoring a stronger whisky flavor or a sweeter profile. The key is to maintain a balance that neither ingredient overpowers the other.

  • Classic Ratio: 45 ml (1.5 oz) Scotch whisky to 30 ml (1 oz) Drambuie.
  • Balance: Ensures harmony between smoky whisky and sweet Drambuie.
  • Personalization: Can be adjusted for a stronger or sweeter taste.
  • Key Principle: Maintain a balance where no flavor dominates.

Best Ingredients

When crafting a Rusty Nail, the quality of the two ingredients is crucial for achieving the best flavor. For the Scotch whisky component, a well-rounded, medium-peated whisky is often recommended to provide the right balance of smokiness without overpowering the drink. If Drambuie is not available, use another high-quality liqueur that offers a rich honeyed sweetness and complex herbal notes, ideally whisky-based. Fresh lemon zest, used as a garnish, should be vibrant and aromatic to add that final touch of citrus complexity. Choosing premium ingredients makes a significant difference in the cocktail’s overall taste and experience.

  • Scotch Whisky: Medium-peated for balanced smokiness.
  • Liqueur: Drambuie or other high-quality liqueur with similar flavor profile for richness and complexity.
  • Lemon Zest: Fresh and aromatic for a citrusy aroma.
  • Ingredient Quality: Premium choices enhance the cocktail experience.


The classic garnish for a Rusty Nail cocktail is a twist of lemon zest, which adds a fresh, citrusy aroma that complements the drink’s smoky and sweet profile. For variation, try an orange peel or a maraschino cherry. These garnishes not only add a splash of color but also subtly alter the drink’s aroma.

For a creative twist, consider adding a sprig of rosemary or a cinnamon stick, which can introduce an additional layer of aroma and flavor. Some bartenders also experiment with a flamed orange peel, which releases essential oils and adds a slightly caramelized note.

These garnishes not only enhance the drink’s flavor and aroma but also contribute to its visual appeal, making it more enticing.

  • Classic Garnish: Lemon zest for a fresh, citrus aroma.
  • Alternative Garnish: Orange peel for a slightly different citrusy twist, or a marachine cherry for a sweet aroma and colorful presentation.
  • Creative Options: Rosemary sprig, cinnamon stick, flamed orange peel.

Tools & Equipment

Creating the ideal Rusty Nail cocktail requires a few essential tools: a jigger for accurate measurements of Scotch whisky and Drambuie, a bar spoon for a perfect stir, and an old-fashioned glass for serving. The jigger is crucial for maintaining the delicate balance of flavors, while the bar spoon ensures a smooth blend without over-diluting the drink. Serving in an old-fashioned glass not only adds to the aesthetic but also enhances the drink’s rich aromas, making each sip a delightful experience.

  • Jigger: Essential for precise measurement of ingredients.
  • Bar Spoon: Ensures even mixing and perfect dilution.
  • Old-Fashioned Glass: Enhances the drink’s visual and aromatic appeal.
  • Peeler/Knife: For preparing lemon zest garnish.

As you can see, preparing a Rusty Nail cocktail requires minimal tools, making it an accessible drink for any home bar.


Crafting the Rusty Nail cocktail traditionally calls for an old-fashioned glass, which enhances its rich flavors and aroma. For a twist, try a stemmed cocktail glass to elevate presentation and temperature control. The choice of glassware can subtly influence the drinking experience, making it essential to select the right type for this timeless classic.

  • Old-Fashioned Glass: Ideal for traditional Rusty Nail, enhancing aroma and flavor.
  • Stemmed Cocktail Glass: Offers a stylish alternative, maintaining the drink’s temperature.

Instructions for Preparation

To create a Rusty Nail, start by pre-chilling an old-fashioned glass. Then, add fresh ice to the glass. Measure and our 45 ml (1.5 oz) of Scotch whisky and 30 ml (1 oz) of Drambuie over the ice. Stir gently to mix and chill the drink without over-diluting. The final touch is a garnish of citrus zest, adding a subtle aroma that complements the cocktail’s rich flavors.

  1. Pre-Chill: Old-fashioned glass for optimal temperature.
  2. Ice: Fill glass with fresh ice.
  3. Measure: 45 ml (1.5 oz) Scotch whisky, 30 ml (1 oz) Drambuie.
  4. Stir: Gently blend ingredients in the glass.
  5. Garnish: Add citrus zest for aroma.

Stir or Shake

For a Rusty Nail, stirring is the preferred method. Stirring gently blends the Scotch whisky and Drambuie, preserving their distinct flavors and avoiding the aeration and dilution that shaking can cause. The result is a smoother, more nuanced cocktail, perfect for savoring its complex flavors.

  • Stirring: Blends ingredients gently, preserving the cocktail’s integrity.
  • Avoid Shaking: Prevents over-aeration and excessive dilution.

Ice (Chilling & Dilution)

The choice of ice in a Rusty Nail is crucial for achieving the perfect chill and dilution. Use large, slow-melting ice cubes to cool the drink gradually, preserving its bold flavors. The ice chills the cocktail, subtly diluting it to soften the whisky’s edge while maintaining the drink’s intensity. Proper ice management ensures a balanced and enjoyable sipping experience.

  • Large Ice Cubes: Slow melting for gradual chilling.
  • Chilling Effect: Softens the whisky’s edge.
  • Controlled Dilution: Maintains the cocktail’s bold flavors.

Scaling (For a Group)

To scale the Rusty Nail for a group, multiply the quantities of Scotch whisky and Drambuie based on the number of servings. Use a large pitcher or mixing glass for preparation. Stir the ingredients with ice and then strain into individual glasses. Alternatively, stir without ice and strain into individual glasses filled with ice. With the second option, you have to be quick to make sure the ice in the glasses does not melt prematurely. This method ensures consistent taste and quality across multiple servings, making it perfect for gatherings.

  • Multiply Ingredients: Adjust based on servings.
  • Large Pitcher/Mixing Glass: For group preparation.
  • Consistent Quality: Ensures each serving tastes the same.

Troubleshooting (Biggest Mistakes)

Avoiding common mistakes is key to perfecting the Rusty Nail. Over-diluting with too much ice or stirring too long can weaken its flavors. Using low-quality spirits can significantly affect the taste. Be mindful of the balance between the whisky and Drambuie – too much of either can overpower the other. Don’t forget the lemon garnish for added aroma and flavor. Attention to these details will ensure a well-crafted cocktail.

  • Avoid Over-Dilution: Use proper ice and stirring techniques.
  • High-Quality Ingredients: Essential for optimal flavor.
  • Balance of Flavors: Key for a harmonious taste.
  • Remember Garnish: For presentation as well as citrus aroma and flavor.

Expert Tips & Tricks

Mastering the Rusty Nail involves nuances that elevate the drinking experience. Use high-quality Scotch for a profound impact on flavor. The ratio of Scotch to Drambuie can be tweaked to suit personal taste, but balance is key. Stirring gently is crucial for the perfect texture. Lastly, experimenting with garnishes can add a personal touch to this classic cocktail.

  • High-Quality Scotch: Essential for superior flavor.
  • Flexible Ratios: Adjust to personal preference, maintaining balance.
  • Gentle Stirring: Key for ideal texture and dilution.
  • Experiment with Garnishes: Personalize with classic and creative garnish options.

Variations of the Rusty Nail

The Rusty Nail inspires several variations, adapting its core elements. The ‘Godfather’ mixes Scotch with amaretto, offering a nuttier profile. ‘Rob Roy’ is essentially a Scotch Manhattan, substituting Drambuie with sweet vermouth. The ‘Bobby Burns’ blends Scotch, vermouth, and a hint of Benedictine. Each variation offers a unique take on the classic Rusty Nail, catering to diverse palates.

  • Godfather: Scotch and amaretto for a nutty twist.
  • Rob Roy: Replaces Drambuie with sweet vermouth.
  • Bobby Burns: Adds Benedictine for complexity.

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Experiment (Create your own riff)

The Rusty Nail is ripe for modern twists. Experiment with different types of Scotch or other types of whisky and whiskey, to alter the flavor profile. Consider adding a dash of bitters or a splash of soda water, or even club soda, can introduce new dimensions. For a sweeter take, increase the Drambuie ratio. These variations let you put a personal stamp on this classic, tailoring it to your taste preferences.

  • Base Spirits: Experiment with different whiskys and whiskeys, such as Scotch or bourbon, for flavor variations.
  • Bitters: Introduce complexity.
  • Liqueurs: Bring in new layers of flavor.
  • Club Soda: Add a refreshing element.
  • Soda Water: Introduce effervescence.
  • Adjust Drambuie Ratio: For a sweeter profile.

Serving Occasions

The Rusty Nail is a versatile cocktail, suitable for various occasions. It’s perfect for a relaxing evening at home, as a sophisticated choice at a dinner party, or as a warm companion by the fireside. Its timeless elegance also makes it a great choice for celebratory events, adding a touch of classic charm.

  • Relaxing Evenings: Ideal for unwinding.
  • Dinner Parties: Adds sophistication.
  • Fireside Companion: Perfect for cozy moments.
  • Celebratory Events: Brings classic elegance.

Food Pairings

The Rusty Nail, with its rich and warming profile, pairs excellently with hearty foods. It complements smoked meats and cheeses, making it ideal for charcuterie boards. The cocktail also works well with dark chocolate, offering a balance of sweet and bitter flavors. For a lighter pairing, try it with savory biscuits or nuts, enhancing the cocktail’s complexity.

  • Smoked Meats and Cheeses: Ideal for charcuterie.
  • Dark Chocolate: Balances sweet and bitter flavors.
  • Savory Biscuits or Nuts: Complements the cocktail’s rich notes.

History & Name

The Rusty Nail cocktail, a mix of Scotch whisky and Drambuie, first appeared in 1937 under the name “B.I.F.,” named after the British Industries Fair. This creation by F. Benniman evolved through various identities, including “D&S,” “Little Club No. 1,” and “Mig-21” in different locations and eras. The name “Rusty Nail” was popularized in the early 1960s by bartenders at the 21 Club in Manhattan. In 1963, Gina MacKinnon, the chairwoman of the Drambuie Liqueur Company, endorsed the name in The New York Times, cementing its place in cocktail history. The name likely reflects the cocktail’s robust character and amber hue, akin to oxidized metal, adding a touch of intrigue and rugged charm to this classic drink.

  • First Known as “B.I.F.” in 1937: Named for the British Industries Fair
  • Varied Names: Included “D&S,” “Little Club No. 1,” and “Mig-21.”
  • Popularized as “Rusty Nail” in the 1960s: By the 21 Club in Manhattan.
  • Officially Named in 1963: Endorsed by Gina MacKinnon of Drambuie.
  • Name Reflects: The cocktail’s robust character and distinctive color.

Embrace the timeless charm of this iconic cocktail by crafting your own Rusty Nail, experimenting with variations, and sharing your creations with us on social media.

Rusty Nail Cocktail

Rusty Nail: Easy 2-Ingredient Cocktail

The Rusty Nail is a classic whisky-forward mixed drink, a simple yet profound blend of Scotch and Drambuie—a sweet, golden-colored liqueur made from Scotch, honey, herbs, and spices. Served in an old-fashioned glass and garnished with a twist of citrus zest, this timeless cocktail is perfect for any occasion, boasting a rich, warming flavor profile.
Total Time 3 minutes
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  • 1 Measuring jigger (for measuring)
  • 1 Lowball glass (aka rocks glass or old-fashioned glass)
  • 1 Spoon or stirring stick (or bar spoon)
  • 1 Citrus peeler/knife (or sharp knife and cutting board; for garnish)


  • oz Whisky (Scotch)
  • 1 oz Drambuie
  • Lemon (twist of zest; for garnish)


  • Glass Preparation: Begin by chilling an old-fashioned glass. This can be done by placing the glass in the freezer for a few minutes or filling it with ice water and letting it sit while you prepare the ingredients.
  • Measuring Ingredients: Use a jigger to measure 45 ml (1.5 oz) of Scotch whisky and 30 ml (1 oz) of Drambuie. This ensures the perfect balance between the smoky whisky and the sweet, herbaceous liqueur.
  • Adding Ice: Discard the ice water from the glass if you used it for chilling. Fill the glass with fresh large ice cubes. Large cubes melt slower, reducing the risk of over-dilution and maintaining the strength of the cocktail.
  • Pouring the Ingredients: Slowly pour the measured Scotch whisky and Drambuie over the ice. The order does not significantly affect the drink, but pouring the whisky first and then the Drambuie is a common practice.
  • Stirring: Gently stir the mixture with a bar spoon for about 15-30 seconds. This blends the ingredients well and chills the drink to the right temperature without overly diluting it.
  • Garnishing: Finish by expressing a lemon zest over the drink to release its oils and then dropping it into the glass or resting it on the rim. This adds a subtle citrus aroma, enhancing the drink's complexity.
  • Serving: Serve immediately while the drink is chilled and the aroma from the lemon zest is fresh.


Calories: 212kcalCarbohydrates: 9gPotassium: 0.4mgSugar: 0.04gIron: 0.01mg
Calories: 212kcal
Course: Drinks
Cuisine: Cocktail
Keyword: Drambuie, whiskey, whisky
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