Rusty nails have long been one of those drinks that I’ve been enjoying when I go places when I’m not in a beer mood. Now being out of that mood isn’t too often, and that’s a good thing! Most bartenders look at you funny when you want a Rusty Nail, pull out a mallet and want to know if your Tetanus booster is recent, and where you want the oxidized metal driven through you. But, again that doesn’t happen too often.
The drink is only a mixture of Drambuie, blended or single malt scotch. Yet this simple drink is viewed as arcane in most places.
I once seriously researched the origin of the drink; didn’t really gain any knowledge about it. All of the sources seemed to conflict with each other. Here’s what I do know, this is a fantastic beverage and it is an IBA (International Beverage Association) cocktail. Also, there are many great places around that serve this cocktail, but occasionally you do have to remind them of what it is.
Who else to be my wingman, than my brother in law, Brenton Novak as we look to hammer down some Rusty Nails around Peoria? Our first stop is the famous West Peoria landmark: Jimmy’s Bar. I don’t frequent Jimmy’s Bar that often, but when I’m in the neighborhood I’m sure to stop in.
Here’s Brenton! He cannot hold back the enthusiasm he has for Rusty Nails and Jimmy’s Bar. In we go.
I went up to the bar to order the Rusty Nail. The reply is classic. “What’s in a Rusty Nail,” the bartender asks.
“Scotch and Drambuie, “ I said with a smile fighting back sorrowful tears. Apparently, the bar was too noisy though, what he said next was a bizarre image in my mind, and possibly unheard of in the beverage world.
“7-up and Drambuie?” the bartender wondered.
Okay...okay, I had to spell it out for him. I told him to mix a scotch with Drambuie. Finally, he understood. All right, so while the beverage was being made I ordered sardines, and the sausage sandwich. Brenton ordered the Irish nachos.
The food was delicious and the drink itself was pretty good. It had the warm peat and oak of the scotch, paired with the anise and honey from the Drambuie.
Delightful! Brenton had a rum and coke. I complimented the bartender on his beverage and learned that the scotch featured in my Rusty Nail was none other than Clan McGregor! I had never tried that one before, but I’m so glad the McGregors welcomed me into their clan. I probably can’t wear the tartan kilt yet, but I can always dream. After a 90 minute stay at Jimmy’s, Brenton and I weighed anchor to go off to Water Street to enjoy a Rusty Nail at Kelleher’s.
Here’s Brenton under the sign, he’s enjoying his pub crawl and I’m more so driving the nails.
Kelleher’s isn’t one of my frequent hangouts, but they didn’t ask any questions when I ordered a Rusty Nail, apparently I need to come here more often. Brenton and I grabbed a seat outside where we could enjoy the awesome autumnal weather as our booze was being brought.
The waitress delivered my Rusty Nail, and Brenton’s one liter stein of Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest.
This Rusty Nail was sweet and very oak forward. A very delicious evening drink, just what you need on a crisp fall day.
Brenton enjoyed his stein, and I savored my Rusty Nail, but we both would run out of time, so I needed to continue this project another day.
Fast forward a week later, I’m back in the Pumpkin City, and I remember that Paddy O’Flaherty’s would be a good place to order a Rusty Nail, after all they are an Celtic themed pub that has lots of Craic and good food.
Heck, I’m sure they have great Rusty Nails.
So, I drive to O’Flaherty’s, grab a table, and approach the bartender.
“One Rusty Nail, please,” I ask with a smile.
The bartender was stymied. “What’s a Rusty Nail?”
I cleared my throat, and explained to her how to make ambrosia. She had an a-ha moment and she made a brilliant Rusty Nail. The barkeep made 60-40 mix of Johnny Walker Black and Drambuie, with the portion of scotch being the more present ingredient.
It was so good, I couldn’t hear the pop country music they play at O’Flaherty’s at all. It's odd for an Irish Pub to have country music playing, but I guess people like that Miley Swift, Taylor Aldean, and McLambert Shelton to play more than The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners. Thanks to the patented and potent powers of Drambuie and Johnny Walker Black I could overcome the exposure to the irradiating glow of pop country.
When I left O’Flaherty’s it was the day IDOT closed a lane on I-74, of course this was on the busiest day of the Pumpkin Festival. The poor motorists were caught in probably one of the rare examples of a traffic jam occurring within Morton. I’m glad I was not leaving town that day.
After those first three Rusty Nails, I challenged myself to make my own. Furthermore, my wife got me a bartending kit for my birthday so it’s time to put it to some practical use. I had two good reasons to mix up a nail: necessity and curiosity. I grabbed an Old Fashioned glass, and a stirring spoon. Then I threw in some ice, three shots of Macgavin’s Speyside Single Malt Whisky and two and a half shots of Drambuie.
My recipe showcased both the honey, anise, and heather from the Drambuie and also the peat and lemon zest from the whiskey. I think I maybe made it too strong, so I’ll have to rechristen the Hovey version as the Rusty Spike.
Now, I don’t know if I’ll ever use another single malt whisky to make a Rusty Nail, but I do know that I still love the drink. I even figured out that it can protect you from the honky tonk music that really shouldn’t be playing in an Irish themed bar.