Drink of the Week: The Rusty Nail

the Rusty Nail.Now that we’re finally just starting to settle down just a bit here at Drink of the Week Plaza, I thought it best to dip my big toe back into the waters of a weekly blog with a drink that is about as simple and easy to make as anything worthy of calling a cocktail.

Now, if you’re looking for an Oscar tie-in, there really isn’t one, except that the characters in “American Hustle” would undoubtedly be familiar with today’s drink, which wasn’t invented in the 1970s but pretty much embodies the spirit of a time when booze was pretty much strictly a means to a sweet end. It’s also not a horrible way to wrap up the trilogy of Scotch-based cocktails we’ve been working on for these last couple posts.

Today, I present you a drink that’s absolutely guaranteed to be more pleasurable than a bout of tetanus.

The Rusty Nail

2 1/2 ounces Scotch whiskey
1/2 ounce Drambuie
1 lemon twist (optional but desirable garnish)

Get a rocks glass and fill it with ice. Add  Drambuie — a reasonably tasty and unreasonably expensive Scotch-based liqueur — and then add some Scotch. Maybe throw on a lemon twist. Toast whomever the hell you please because this drink is perfect for people too busy to toast.

*****

In terms of ingredients and how to mix them, there are three big questions with the Rusty Nail. One is the brand of Scotch. David Wondrich tells us, not surprisingly, blended Scotches like your dad and grandpa drank are best for a Rusty Nail.  We’re talking Johnny Walker, Cutty Sark, Dewar’s and the like. I actually tried a very good single malt and my mouth instantly knew that something was amiss. Too much smoke, too much fire.

The next question is your proportion of Drambuie to Scotch. While I have a sweet tooth, I find using equal parts Scotch and Drambuie — as many older recipes have it — way, way, way too sweet. Even Wondrich’s 1/2 to 2 seemed a bit sweeter to me than I would prefer. Moreover, the boozy guru’s demand that we mix, instead of layering in, the ingredients wasn’t really working for me either. That, by the way, indicates the third big question of the Rusy Nail.

At that point, I found inspiration in my new neighborhood, or technically the next neighborhood over, as I visited a very accomplished 1970s boozery and eatery with surprisingly great food. I speak of Studio City’s the Oyster House — home of, among other tasty 1970s-esque delicacies, very delish oyster shooters, six for $6.00. Bartender Greg (at least I think it was Greg) made me a drink that was, I’m guessing, 1/2 to 2 1/2, in which he poured the Drambuie first and some Dewar’s White Label second. The result was pretty lovely, with the Drambuie at the bottom of the drink acting like a dessert t following the bracing, icy Scotch.  I went home and tried the same thing but with Grant’s, and the results were just about as good.

So what have we learned today? Well, I’m learning my new neighborhood has more than one great hangout in it. That’s lesson enough.

  

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Drink of the Week: Blood and Sand

Blood and Sand. If you notice a sort of philosophic air to this post, let’s say that’s because life and death is swirling around Drink of the Week. People in my sphere are being born and others have made their last appearance after good and long lives, and that’s not all. This will be the final entry in Drink of the Week written before our departure from DOTW Central in exciting Van Nuys and our arrival at what we sure hope will be more permanent digs at DOTW Plaza in exotic North Hollywood.

Expect a DOTW return to a more regular schedule in a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s maybe one of the very finest and also most crowd-pleasing cocktails we’ve done here. And, yes, it features Scotch. Such things are possible.

I’ve been circling Blood and Sand, an infrequently revived classic, apparently named for the hugely successful 1922 bullfighting melodrama (viewable via YouTube), for several months. I’ve been biding my time because I had figured out a true Blood and Sand almost had to feature the juice of a blood orange, a fruit which has a relatively brief winter season. Yes, most recipes simply call for orange juice, but now it’s clear to me that the juice of the smaller purple fleshed orange, which looks exactly like grape juice, is the life’s blood of a truly outstanding Blood and Sand. Regular OJ is also definitely an option, but we’ll get to the issues around that later.

Blood and Sand

1 ounce Scotch whiskey
1 ounce fresh blood orange juice or, if it’s all you’ve got, regular orange juice
1 ounce Cherry Herring
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 orange twist (garnish)

Combine the Scotch, citrus juice, Cherry Herring — a very delicious liqueur you’ll be seeing more of here — and sweet vermouth in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake as vigorously as a toreador torturing a testosterone-laden bovine and strain into a not too small chilled cocktail glass, adding your orange twist. Feel free to reduce the ingredients down to 3/4 of an ounce if  you want a smaller drink. If you’re a silent film fan, you can certainly toast the charismatic star of the first version of the movie, Blood and Sand, Rudolph Valentino, who famously had his own dance with death much too early. Or, you can simply toast getting to enjoy another day on this earth and being able to sample this super-spiffy drink.

*****

I’ve been doing a bit of research and it’s hard to find any solid info behind my assumption that blood orange juice was part of the original Blood and Sand, whenever and wherever it was made. The recipe that I basically stole from the prohibition-era The Savoy Cocktail Book makes no mention of blood orange, nor does Ted Haigh in his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. On the other hand, the cocktail enthusiast who contributed the Wikipedia stub on the drink specifically mentions blood orange juice, as do several bloggers.

I think it’s very safe to figure that the original Blood and Sand had some real blood orange in it and it makes an enormous difference. The tangier flavor of the blood orange, which has a hint of grapefruit to it, is just the perfect balance for the sweeter ingredients, particularly the Cherry Herring. Although my picture doesn’t do it much justice, it also looks vastly better this way — a deep red, as opposed to a muddy orange.

Speaking of Cherry Herring, it is typically used for the cherry brandy mentioned in a lot of recipes. This is confusing because brandy is usually a distilled spirit that’s a million miles from a liqueur. Apparently, somewhere along the way, cherry brandy, cherry flavored brandy, and cherry liqueurs have all become oddly interchangeable with, I guess, the exception of cherry-derived kirsch, or kirschwasser, brandy. In any case, Cherry Herring, a standby cocktail ingredient you’ll be seeing here again, has become the standard for a Blood and Sand.

Getting back to my own adventures with this drink, whenever I used the blood orange, I found it pretty indestructible — sweet, of course, but with a nectar-of-the-gods sort of complexity to it. For my Scotch, I mostly used Grant’s, a very good, basic choice for this type of drink. (I’m sure any standard brand — Johnnie Walker, Cutty Sark, etc. — will also work just great.) Though some discourage the use of smokier Scotchs, I also found that the strong smoke flavor of Laphroaig 10 Year Old, featured here previously, added a very nice undercurrent to the drink; it also saved an unblooded Blood and Sand from being even slightly cloying when I tried it with regular orange juice.

But that still left the problem of what to do with the still enjoyable, but arguably overly sweet flavor, of the non-blood orange Blood and Sand when you’re using a less smokey Scotch. One decent solution comes from Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail. He reduces all the ingredients, save the OJ, to 3/4 of an ounce, making for lighter, more refreshing but still darn sweet concoction. (He also flames the orange twist…but then DeGroff always fires up his orange peels.)

Ted Haigh proposes a slightly boozier alternative which I haven’t had a chance to experiment with as yet. He proposes an ounce each of juice and Scotch, but reduces the cherry liqueur and sweet vermouth down to 3/4 ounce, while adding a super-sweet cocktail cherry to the mix. Let’s all give that one a try when blood oranges finally go out of season.

  

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