It’s over.

The lights are coming down from the windows, the ornaments are going back in their boxes, the tree is destined for the compost heap. From here on out, there’s no gaity to winter–it’s all leafless branches, bitter mornings and sullen gray skies until April. I’ve spent most of my life in drier, colder climates where–instead of Seattle’s incessant drizzle–winter mornings are marked by a crisp, dusty haze, as if the air itself had frozen, ready to shatter into shards should you yell too loud.

To survive the grim patch of calendar that we call ‘January,’ hibernation is in order. But, for those of us who can’t afford the luxury of simply burrowing under the covers until the days grow longer, an adversarial approach to the season is the next best thing. Rather than simply resigning oneself to a monotonous trudge toward springtime, it’s best to come out swinging, kicking January in its icy crotch and throwing elbows at its nose.

And that’s where whisky, no ‘e,’ comes in. Few things shake winter’s grip like this smoky spirit. I once spent a January (and a February, and a March) in Edinburgh, and developed an appreciation for whisky’s inimitable power to smash winter right in its teeth. I’ll never debate the value of a touch of a nice single malt–but for people like me, who just have to start fiddling with things in a glass, there’s a nice, gentle drink that uses whisky as its mainstay, and smoothes and fortifies itself with, basically, more whisky: the Rusty Nail.

The Rusty Nail couldn’t be simpler to make–pour some Scotch over ice, add some Drambuie (a whisky-based liqueur flavored with herbs and sweetened with honey), stir if you like (or don’t, if you like), and follow your instinct for the rest. Recipes vary on proportions, with some calling for equal parts of the two ingredients, ranging down to four parts Scotch to one part liqueur. It’s a good idea to lean toward the dry side–Drambuie is one of the loveliest liqueurs in creation, but too much will clip the whisky’s wings. Oh, and use a blended Scotch for this–put aside your Laphroig and break out that bottle of Chivas or Johnny Walker you got for Christmas. If you’re paying for the bottle yourself and you’re looking for a good, affordable mixing whisky, you could do much, much worse than Famous Grouse.

Whisky, mixed with whisky. January hasn’t got a chance.

Rusty Nail

  • 2 ounces blended Scotch
  • 1/2 ounce Drambuie

Fill an old fashioned glass 3/4 full of ice; add Scotch, then Drambuie. Stir, if you like. A twist of lemon may be added, but is entirely optional.

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4 Responses to January

  1. Never has such a fine description of winter and its ills been described!

    Have you been published? Would love to read more… Even in the desert a rusty nail could be a fine end to a long winter’s night

  2. Will–

    Thanks for the nice note. No books out, except a chapter in volume one of Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail (and a chapter pending in Volume 3). I also contribute regularly to Imbibe magazine (www.imbibemagazine.com), so keep an eye out for that. Other than that, this is it (as far as spirits & cocktails are concerned)….

  3. I, too love a good Rusty Nail. My father taught me about them- an experiment from Vietnam days. His finding was that it’s better if you chill both ingredients and skip the ice, then pour the Drambuie into a cheap, blended scotch to watch it sink in…
    Marvelous with an ice-water back.

  4. This is a very popular cocktail in Chile named “clavo oxidado”. We follow similar directions as you described, but we also add three whole cloves to give an aromatic twist.
    We love it during winter too. That’s July here.

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