How The Rusty Nail Got Its Name

Rusty Nail

Imagine walking into a bar and hearing someone order a rusty nail. The first thing that comes to mind is what the patron will do with a rusty nail at a bar, but as you wait, you see the bartender pour a golden-colored drink into a glass and serve it to the customer. Some cocktails have weird names, and the Rusty Nail is no different. Here is what we discovered after taking the time to find out how the drink got its name.

Took Decades to Be Baptized “Rusty Nail”

In 1915, the first British Industries Fair (BIF) was held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in London. The purpose of the fair was to encourage firms in Britain to make goods that the country had been importing. In 1920, a complex of buildings was built between the railway line and Castle Bromwich Aerodrome. It became an exhibition Center, where the BIF was held every year for two weeks. During those two weeks, the center was the most visited attraction in England. According to Liquor, one of the creations during the BIF held in 1937 was a drink. They did not have a name for it, so it was dubbed the BIF. After the fair, the BIF seemed to have disappeared until 1942, when sources claim it had been invented for Theodore Anderson. BIF did not gain any popularity until the 1950s, when it is said to have been the hottest cocktail in New York.

It was popularized in Bangkok by the US forces during the Vietnam War, and they dubbed it “Mig-21.” In Manhattan, The BIF was being sold as D&S, meaning Drambuie and Scotch, the two main ingredients in the Rusty Nail. In the Midwest, they called it “Knucklehead,” while in New York the BIF was “Little Club No. 1.” However, all this confusion was put to rest when Gina MacKinnon, the Drambuie Company Chairperson, endorsed the drink and referred to it as “Rusty Nail.” The exact year she did so differs from sources; some say it was in 1963, while others think it was in 1967. According to Make Me a Cocktail, the name “Rusty Nail” originates from a few theories. It is rumored that the bartender would stir the drink with a rusty nail. Another theory claims that the drink’s golden tones look like a rusty nail, while others say the name was adopted from the rusty nails that held the Drambuie cases together. Whatever the real reason behind the name is, the Rusty Nail stuck, and by the 1970s, it had become a favorite of the Rat Pack Boys, namely Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford.

Rusty Nail Variations

A Couple Books published that anyone who claims a Rusty Nail should be made with equal parts of Drambuie and whiskey is wrong. The author of the article suggests that doing so would result in an excessively sweet drink that is overpowering. For this reason, another recipe is suggested in which you should mix four parts whiskey with one part Drambuie so that the resulting drink is only sweet enough. Another suggestion is to use clear ice. Most of the recipes follow the ratio of 4:1 for scotch and Drambuie, with the Drambuie being just enough to add flavor and eliminate the need for any other mixer. At the same, you can adjust the ratio to suit your preference. If you are not a fan of sweet drinks, a dash of angostura bitters is recommended because it leaves a tonic aftertaste. The Rusty Nail is best taken after dinner and should be sipped slowly.

Why Gina MacKinnon’s “Rusty Nail” Name Struck

You must wonder why none of the other names stuck until MacKinnon gave her suggestion. Well, it all dates back to her ancestors. According to The New York Times, Gina kept the secret formula of Drambuie in her head for years but was also wise to keep it in the vaults of two Scottish banks. The recipe was handed down from generation to generation of the MacKinnon family after Prince Charles Edward Stuart gave it to John MacKinnon. According to legend, John kept the Prince safe while in exile. Thus, the prince rewarded his protector with the recipe of a tonic. It was Prince Stuart’s elixir, a mixture of essential oils. Only a drop was needed to flavor drinks. The MacKinnons made a drink using the recipe; only a few bottles were made, and the MacKinnons would gift a few to friends and clansmen. The recipe continued being handed down from generation to generation for 150 years until the Drambuie Company was born. The family used the recipe to make Drambuie, and once Gina passed away in 1973, it passed on to her son, daughter, and the directors of the company. Since Drambuie is such an important ingredient of what was once named BIF, it goes without saying that when Gina dubbed the cocktail the “Rusty Nail,” the name stuck. Without her ancestors, Rusty Nail would not have been invented.

Should You Dilute Your Whiskey?

Most whiskey lovers believe that whiskey should never be diluted, yet the Rusty Nail has to be mixed with Drambuie and ice. Many articles explain the reasons why you should water down your whiskey, and the Verge even went ahead to look for scientific reasons. As per the article, whiskey has molecules called guaiacol, which react differently to the amounts of water added to the drink. When a little water is added, the molecules float at the source, making your whiskey taste better. However, there is no right or wrong way to drink your whiskey because it all boils down to how you like yours. Truth be told, once you mix the Drambuie with the whiskey, the only other ingredients recommended are ice and lemon twist for garnishing. Bartenders have their variations, especially when using Drambuie because of its ability to add flavor.

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