Site icon Tom Lasher Walker

The Rebirth of the Rusty Nail

When Saul Goodman sits down with a drink in hand in the opening episode of Better Call Saul, never did anyone think that the trajectory of the Rusty Nail would ever come back to the precipice of popular culture. 

After all, one should spare a thought for the roller coaster popularity and inconsistent history that has been such a strong part of the drinks identity over the last 80 or so years.

Despite tenuously dating back to the 1930s, it took a full generation for the Rusty Nail to find its feet in the cocktail world, at a time when cocktail culture in general was slowly going down the pan. 

Originating prior to the World War Two, the Rusty Nail first appeared back in 1937 at the British Industries Fair, and was uninspiringly dubbed the B.I.F. cocktail. 

The drink seems to slip into obscurity for almost two decades, only to resurface in the 1950’s USA, adopting various weird names along the way as it became more and more popular throughout the US; Ted Sauciers Bottom’s Up from 1951 has a similar drink called the ‘Little Club #1’ (as it was commonly known as in New York), although the drink also went by such names as a ‘Knucklehead’ or ‘MiG-21’, depending on whether you were in the American Midwest or South Asia respectively. 

By the time the 1960s rolled around the drink had taken on the identity that that we all know and love; that equal-part, built-in-the-glass and fill-with-ice sort of drink that made it easy for boozers to order in any bar or make at home.

Generally credited with the bartenders at Manhattan’s 21 Club – who were also responsible for the birth of the ‘Benedictine & Brandy’, the swinging 60s were a decade in which the Rusty Nail finally made a home for itself.

The drinks popularity in the 1960s and 70s became as such that cocktail wise it had ascended Mt. Everest; an easy to make drink that had a definitive identity because of its use of Drambuie, legend has it that it was a favorite drink of the Rat Pack and especially Frank Sinatra, and went 100mph into the 1970s as the drink everyone was asking about. 

However, by this point the drinks death warrant had already been signed. Not only did it make an appearance in Old Mister Boston Official Bartender’s Guide in 1967, but that same year was endorsed by Drambuie chairwoman Gina MacKinnon in the New York Times.

As the 1970s and 1980s rolled on, the drinks popularity declined and was laid to rest during the disco-drink era when brown spirits made way for their lighter counterpart siblings and cocktail culture was streamlined against a backdrop of flavorless spirits and mainstream brands.

MacKinnon’s endorsement should have allowed the Rusty Nail a stay of execution; instead it did the opposite, delaying the cocktails revival in an era when all of us were flipping through dusty old books to see what could be made with what was available on the back bar.

Drambuie’s insistence throughout the decades that it was their signature cocktail, coupled with numerous other drinks that started or ended with the word ‘rusty’ only harmed the drinks reputation. 

In conjunction with the mothballing and merging of Scotland’s distilleries and large liquor companies in the 1980s, its taken too long for Drambuie to show what it can do in drinks other than the one it was most well known for.

Rusty Nail
Add all ingredients to a rocks glass. Add one large jumbo ice cube, stir 5 – 6 times and garnish with an orange twist and lemon twist
Recipe adapted from it’s debut at the British Industries Fair, New York, c. 1937

Exit mobile version