Just 2 Ingredients Make Up a Rich and Complex Rusty Nail Cocktail

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.

Just 2 Ingredients Make Up a Rich and Complex Rusty Nail Cocktail
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

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.

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