New York or Los Angeles (1950ish)
Really just a Scotch on the rocks with a bit of Drambuie, the Rusty Nail is an Atomic Age classic I’ve found even more satisfying when made along the lines of an Old Fashioned.
The natural combination of Scotch and Drambuie had been around since Prohibition, operating under a couple different names (some stupid names, too: D & S, Knucklehead, MIG-21, Little Club #1, B.I.F), until it received official christening as a “Rusty Nail” at some point in the ’50s.
I’ve seen ratios as high as half-Scotch and half-Drambuie – way too sweet. Dry it out some and round it up with lemon oil and orange bitters; you’ll want to take your time sipping it that way. The recipe below is not an “according to Hoyle” 2:1 Rusty Nail – it’s my minor spin on the drink that suits my palate.
Drambuie (from the Scottish Gaelic an dram buidheach, “the drink that satisfies”) is an herbal spiced heather-honey liqueur with a Scotch whiskey base. It was originally made exclusively by the Broadford Hotel on the Isle of Skye in the 1870s, then the recipe was sold to commercial producers in the early 20th century. Rat-Packers looking for a slightly softer impact from the blast of straight Scotch whiskey embraced the Rusty Nail as their preferred sip, most likely holding a cigarette in the same hand (keeping the other hand free for snapping fingers). Cue up some Sinatra and kick back, baby.
Hardware: Jigger, Barspoon, Vegetable peeler or sharp knife
Ice: Ice chunk or ice cubes
Glassware: Old Fashioned glass
Spirits: Scotch whisky (Speyside or blended – recommended: Glenfiddich 12, The Glenlivet 12, The Famous Grouse)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Drambuie
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange bitters, Lemon twist
Using a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife, cut a strip of lemon peel to make:
1 lemon twist
Don’t include too much of the bitter white pith, if any. Holding the twist with the outside facing down over an Old Fashioned glass, pinch to express lemon oil into the glass. Reserve the twist for a garnish. Into the glass, add:
1 dash orange bitters
1/2 oz Drambuie
Add an ice rock or two to three ice cubes then add:
2 oz Scotch whiskey
Stir briskly to blend and chill. Insert the lemon twist as a garnish.
Caribbean, generally (1700s)
Truth is, I’ve been remiss. Planter’s Punch certainly qualifies as a “basic drink,” one of perhaps a handful of core templates that inspire countless variations. You have the “cocktail” Old Fashioned (template: spirit, sugar, bitters, rock ice), the “aromatic” Martini (template: 2:1 spirit / aromatized wine, served up), the “sour” Daiquiri (template: 2:1:1 spirit / citrus / sweet, up), the… um… “Collins” Tom Collins (template: 2:1:1 spirit / citrus / sweet with dilution & bubbles, served tall), and the punch – simply a large-format Collins with the addition of spice. Some other oddball drinks are out there, either part of a smaller family or black sheep out on their own: drinks like Egg Nog, Irish Coffee, Ramos Gin Fizz. The world of cocktails is chaotic and resists tidy taxonomy. But some rules do apply, whether these drinks like it or not.
So, as a punch, this came to British and Dutch sailors by way of the Caribbean – and from there to the world. Punch was all the rage in Colonial America and held dominance at the local watering hole until the mid-1800s, when the pace of life quickened and people just couldn’t take the time to spend hours imbibing socially. I can’t imagine what they would think of today’s world, poor souls. Drinks became reduced down to individual portions, and the Planter’s Punch in particular was a popular novelty for tourists visiting Jamaica’s Hotel Titchfield and Myrtle Bank Hotel. Myers’s Rum even rebranded their labels as the Planter’s Punch rum in the 1930s. You may have heard different versions of this rhyming recipe for punch: “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak, and a touch of spice to make it nice.” The sour is typically lime, the sweet is almost always just simple syrup (but a bit of grenadine is not uncommon), the strong is our old buddy rum, and the weak is dilution – from shaking with ice, from serving over ice, and from seltzer. The spice is simply Angostura bitters, potent with Caribbean spices like cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.
Now, were we to strictly follow that singsong rhyme, this drink would come out unbalanced. That 1-2-3-4-5 thing works in a punch bowl, where moderate dilution is welcome. Punch (in that format) is meant to be sipped communally over a long conversation. This is more of a solitary sipper – better suited to a lazy afternoon in the hammock. Side note: progressing from its popularity as a tropical refresher, Planter’s Punch became the inspiration for many successful tall tiki drinks beginning with Don the Beachcomber’s Zombie. When dimensionalized into a tiki drink, the strong component can change from one rum to four rums. The sweet can be a mix of multiple syrups and tropical flavors. Spice is often integrated into the syrups, like the ginger kick in falernum or the allspice in pimento dram. Try this simple, direct version – then give the tiki approach a go and see what you come up with!
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Cocktail pick, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Spirits: Dark Jamaican rum (recommended: Coruba)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Simple syrup, Seltzer (or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino))
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wheel
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz dark Jamaican rum
1 oz lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled about two-thirds of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:
1 1/2 oz seltzer
Stir lightly to blend and garnish with a lime wheel. Optionally, serve with a straw.
New York City, 1860ish
The Whiskey Sour is one in a family of “Sours” – modify the sweetener from simple syrup to honey syrup and you have a Gold Rush. Make it maple syrup and that’s a Rattlesnake. Make it with rum & lime, call it a Daiquiri. Keep swapping things around and tweaking proportions and you’ll get a Margarita, a Jack Rose, a Wild-Eyed Rose, a Sidecar… endless variations. Jerry Thomas first covered Sours in his 1862 book and just about every cocktail book since then has featured a version. I’ve uncovered a baffling array of recipes called “Whiskey Sour” – tall with soda in a Collins glass, frappe-style with blended crushed ice and Angostura bitters in a fizz glass, whiskey-forward on the rocks, citrus-forward up in a cocktail glass, and more. The original was surely just whiskey, lemon, and sugar, most likely on the rocks. Two hitchhikers this drink picked up along the way make a great addition: egg white and Angostura bitters. The egg brings body and texture, the Angostura helps mask the wet-dog smell that egg foam sometimes gets (plus it adds those delicious cinnamon and clove spices). Try it this way, then feel free to fiddle around with it, coming up with your own spin.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Fine-mesh strainer
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or coupe
Spirits: Bourbon whiskey (recommended: Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey 81, Four Roses “Yellow Label”)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Simple syrup, Egg white
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Angostura bitters, Lemon wheel, Maraschino cherry
Chill a cocktail glass or coupe in the freezer at least ten minutes. Separate one egg, discarding the yolk. Lightly mix the egg white with a fork – this’ll help you measure it out.
In an empty shaker, add:
2 oz bourbon whiskey
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz egg whites
Make sure you have a good, tight seal (egg whites can foam up and expand when shaken). Shake without ice for 20 seconds to blend. Add a few ice cubes and shake again, hard, for at least 30 seconds. Double-strain into the chilled glass using a fine-mesh strainer.
Allow the egg foam to rise to the top (you can also spoon some residual foam out from the shaker) and, in a ring, drop:
8 drops Angostura bitters
Swirl the Angostura bitters with a cocktail pick to decorate the top of the drink. Garnish with a lemon wheel and Maraschino cherry pinned together with a cocktail pick.