I have a confession to make: I’ve lately become a Rusty Nail drinker. I never had myself down as the kind of person who’d happily put away equal parts Scotch and syrupy Drambuie honey-and-whisky liqueur. I am someone who likes dry drinks. And aromatic drinks. And drinks that are bittersweet and sour. Drinks, you know, with a bit of class to them. But when the chips are down, it seems I have the palate of a 10-year-old.

The first time I drank a Rusty Nail there were mitigating circumstances. It was late, I was cold and tired after a very delayed journey on Eurostar – I came into the kitchen, put my bags down, and found myself reaching for the Johnnie Walker Black and Drambuie. I thought it was a one-off, but since then the late-night Rusty has become a bit of a ritual for me and my husband: equal parts whisky and Drambuie in a tiny Richard Brendon shot glass. No ice, no garnish, nothing. 

The Boatyard Sloe Boat Gin, £30
The Boatyard Sloe Boat Gin, £30
The King’s Ginger Liqueur, £22.75, thewhiskyexchange.com
The King’s Ginger Liqueur, £22.75, thewhiskyexchange.com © Krystian Krzewinski

The Rusty Nail is more nuanced than you might think. Drambuie, as I have come to appreciate, has many layers of spices, honey and herbs to it: the recipe is a secret, but I taste citrus peels, clove, caraway and saffron. You could upgrade your Rusty by using the longer-aged Drambuie 15yo. But I think that’s gilding the lily.

The fortifier my grandmother always drank was the now-unfashionable Whisky Mac: two fingers of Bell’s and Stone’s Ginger Wine (served without ice, of course). For even more pep, you could swap the Stone’s for the fantastically fiery King’s Ginger Liqueur, which was originally created for Edward VII by his physician and Berry Bros & Rudd to warm him up on outings in his motor car (some King’s Ginger fans claim the new, lower-abv recipe lacks firepower but it does the job for me).

Drambuie, £29.95
Drambuie, £29.95
D.R. Henderson, £23, stjohnrestaurant.com
D.R. Henderson, £23, stjohnrestaurant.com

My grandmother was also a big maker of sloe gin. If you had the foresight to make some of this garnet liqueur back in the autumn, then you’ll probably be drinking it soon. If you didn’t, then the full-flavoured sloe gin by The Boatyard Distillery in County Fermanagh, north-west Ireland, is a good one.

Devotees of the London restaurant St John will no doubt be excited to learn that the establishment is now selling its notorious D.R. Henderson elixir by the bottle. Made from a blend of Fernet Branca amaro and crème de menthe, this dark-green pick-me-up was originally designed as a hangover cure for chef Fergus Henderson’s father. Bitter as black chocolate and as cooling as an after-dinner mint, it’s a great nightcap. If I come down in the morning and find a little green circle on the kitchen counter, I know that someone has drunk their fill.

@alicelascelles

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