Home Cocktails Rusty Nail Cocktail Recipe

Rusty Nail Cocktail Recipe

The Rusty Nail cocktail is a timeless classic with smooth, sweet, and smoky flavor.

It masterfully combines the peaty depth of scotch whisky with the honeyed spice of Drambuie. And all it takes is a hit of bitters and a twist of lemon to lift it from the glass.

Better yet, it’s beyond easy to make. The Rusty Nail proves that less truly is more in the art of cocktail making.

Rusty Nail Cocktail on the Rocks
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What’s in A Rusty Nail?

The Rusty Nail is a refreshing drink that’s been around since 1937. (Though it didn’t become popular until the 1960s.)

The story behind its name, however, is somewhat unclear. 

It was likely named after the rusty nails on the crates of Drambuie – one of the cocktail’s primary ingredients.

Another theory is that bartenders stirred the drinks with rusty nails.

Whatever the case, there’s no denying that the Rusty Nail is a classic. It’s a fun scotch and Drambuie cocktail that you’ll want to sip slowly by the fire.

It consists of two primary ingredients and two optional ones: 

  • Scotch: The type of scotch will influence the drink’s flavor. Smoky scotch will give the Rusty Nail deep, peaty notes, while a mild scotch will keep it smooth.
  • Drambuie: This liqueur is made of scotch whisky, honey, herbs, and spices. So, while the Rusty Nail has a double dose of whisky, the sweetness here creates a harmonious blend.
  • Bitters: While traditional Rusty Nails don’t include bitters, a dash can introduce an aromatic depth you’ll love. It’s optional, so tailor it to suit your taste!
  • Lemon peel twist: As always, garnishes are optional. However, if you do add one, a lemon peel twist is traditional. 
A Glass of Refreshing Rusty Nail Cocktail on Ice

How to Make a Rusty Nail 

Follow these steps to mix up your Rusty Nail cocktail: 

1. Mix and stir. Add ice to a mixing glass, then pour in the scotch, Drambuie, and bitters. Stir briskly until the drink is chilled. 

2. Strain, garnish, and serve. Strain the cocktail into a rocks glass full of ice. Then, add your lemon twist, serve, and enjoy! 

What’s the Best Scotch for a Rusty Nail? 

Because taste is subjective, you can use whatever scotch you like best for your Rusty Nail.

However, the best scotch is mid- to high-quality blended scotch

I like Johnnie Walker Red or Black, as well as Glenfiddich.

What Is Drambuie?

Drambuie is a specific brand of scotch whisky-derived liqueur. It contains a unique blend of spices and honey for a taste unlike anything else. 

It typically contains about 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) and tastes great in cocktails or by itself.

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While other liqueurs taste somewhat similar, nothing can replace Drambuie. It’s in a league of its own, and a Rusty Nail won’t taste the same without it. 

Rusty Nail Cocktail Garnished With Lemon Peel on a Wooden Table

Tips and Tricks 

The Rusty Nail is a pretty straightforward drink. (With only two required ingredients, it pretty much has to be.)

Still, here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when making it: 

  • Stick to high-quality ingredients. Save your cheap scotch for lesser cocktails. The Rusty Nail deserves at least mid-shelf scotch. Top-shelf is even better. 
  • Chill your glass. Make sure it’s nice and cold before adding the cocktail to it. A chilled glass will keep your drink colder for longer. It’ll also slow down the dilution caused by melting ice. 
  • Don’t make substitutions. Plenty of cocktails allow you to use all kinds of substitutions in the recipe. The Rusty Nail isn’t one of them. The only way to make it is with whisky (preferably scotch) and Drambuie. You can leave out the bitters, but don’t swap the whisky and Drambuie for anything else. 
  • Don’t over-stir. Stir the drink for approximately 20 to 30 seconds. If you stir it for too long, you’ll cause the ice to melt and dilute your drink. 
  • Use a single cube of clear ice for the drink. Clear ice cubes are so aesthetically pleasing. The Berlinzo Clear Ice Ball Maker from Amazon is an excellent way to make clear ice every time. 
  • Adjust the proportions. Some people like a more balanced mix of scotch and Drambuie. Others want a much higher ratio of scotch. Play around with the ratios to see what you enjoy best. 

More Classic Cocktail Recipes to Try

Gin Rickey
Black Manhattan
Classic Sazerac

Rusty Nail

Course: DrinksCuisine: American


Prep time



The Rusty Nail cocktail is a timeless classic with smooth, sweet, and smoky flavor. Its delightfully simple yet sophisticated taste is not to be missed.


  • 1 1/2 ounces scotch

  • 3/4 ounce Drambuie

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters (optional)

  • lemon peel twist, for garnish (optional)


  • Fill a mixing glass with ice. Pour in the scotch, Drambuie, and Angostura bitters (if using). Stir until well-chilled.
  • Strain the mixture into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon peel twist, if desired.
  • Serve and enjoy!


  • Chill the glass before making the drink to keep it cooler for longer.
  • Don’t over-stir. Stir the drink for approximately 20 to 30 seconds. If you stir it for too long, you’ll cause the ice to melt and dilute your drink. 
Rusty Nail

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author avatar
NaTaya Hastings
NaTaya Hastings is a food and recipe writer for Insanely Good Recipes. She’s an educator, boy mom, dog mom, and whatever-stray-enters-the-yard mom. As a result, she's constantly cooking for both humans and animals.

Luckily, she enjoys it!

Though born, raised, and still living in Alabama, her specialty is NOT down-home Southern cooking. Instead, she loves to experiment with Asian, Mexican, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines. She has two mottos when it comes to cooking. “The more spice, the better!” and “There’s no such thing as too much garlic!”

She’s also pretty good with desserts. Especially the easy, no-bake ones.

Her favorite things are cuddling with her four giant dogs, traveling, reading, writing, and hanging out in nature. She’s also pretty excellent at Dominoes.

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