Rusty Nail

Photo courtesy of Clearly Ambiguous, some rights reserved

Rugby and drinking go hand in hand, and you need look no further than The Famous Grouse’s long association with the Scottish national team to know that whisky and rugby are a natural combination.

My early rugby watching was done in sunny south London rather than the frozen north, so rugby for me was always associated with beer.  Normally the warm flat stuff that men with beards drink – remember the Tetley’s Bitter Cup and Greene King as ‘official beer’ of the England rugby team?   Even when I moved north, much of my rugby watching was accompanied by a plastic pint cup of lager for the Heineken Cup and occasionally Magners for the Celtic League, at least in part for its prominance on the shirts of Edinburgh and London Wasps in the mid-2000s.

Since then however, I have wrapped up warm for enough afternoons and evenings at Murrayfield and one particularly chilly November day on the Aberdeenshire coast where even the players came out to warm up in tin foil coats under sleeping bags.  As a result I have developed an appreciative understanding of the use of the hip flask and the variety of concoctions it can contain.

The obvious choice for the hip flask is straight whisky, but with tastes differing so much from person to person as you pass it down a row of seats, it’s far safer to mellow the whisky with the addition of a drop of Drambuie, the ‘satisfying’ blend of malt whisky, honey, herbs and spices that was supposedly gifted to the Clan MacKinnon by Bonnie Prince Charlie after a hard day at Culloden in 1746.

Rusty Nail

The original version of the Nail actually dates from the golden sands of Hawaii in the 1940s and not the West Stand at Murrayfield on St Patrick’s Day 1990.  Much like the Dry Martini, purists can argue for days about the ratio of whisky to Drambuie, but 3:1 is just about standard for your hip flask.  It can also be served up, or over crushed ice as follows:

  1. Fill an old fashioned glass with crushed ice.
  2. Add a large measure of scotch whisky (traditionally a blend, but feel free to experiment) and a measure of Drambuie.
  3. Stir gently until frost forms on the outside of the glass.
  4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Royal Nail

The Royal Nail is a luxurious alternative to the Rusty Nail, described by its creator, Simon Difford, as ‘two British Royals bittered by a yank’.  It forgoes the Drambuie, uses Peychaud’s bitters for its mellowing, blending effect and was a staple of my hip flask during this summer’s wedding season.  The Royal Nail can also be found ‘straight up’, but is more commonly served over ice:

  1. Add a large measure of premium blended whisky, a measure of Islay whisky and a single sploosh of Peychaud’s to a mixing glass.
  2. Fill the mixing glass with ice and stir well.
  3. Strain into an old fashioned glass over ice and garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Galvanised Nail

The Galvanised Nail uses Drambuie, apple, lemon and elderflower to smooth the edges of the Scotch.  Another Simon Difford creation, dating from 2003, it is usually served up:

  1. Add a large measure of blended whisky, half a measure of Drambuie, half a measure of apple juice, a quarter measure of elderflower liqueur and a quarter measure of lemon juice to a shaker.
  2. Fill with ice and shake well.
  3. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Cajun Nail

The Cajun Nail is a mix between the Sazerac and the Rusty Nail, which uses whiskey instead of whisky, ramps up the Drambuie content and gives us another chance to practice our Absinthe Rinse.  The Cajun Nail is best served over ice:

  1. Fill an old fashioned glass with ice, add half a measure of absinthe and top up with water.
  2. Add a large measure of whiskey, a large measure of Drambuie and three splooshes each of Angostura and Peychaud’s to a mixing glass.
  3. Fill with ice and stir well.
  4. Discard the absinthe water and ice (offer them to your customer separately if you wish).
  5. Strain into the absinthe rinsed glass over fresh ice and garnish with the oil from a twist of lemon, but discard the peel.

The Gentleman’s Agreement

Photo courtesy of Kerjsi, some rights reserved.

Stretching the boundaries of what can and cannot be considered a true Manhattan variant – in my mind anything that features whiskey and (sweet) vermouth – this week’s #midweekmanhattan is the Gentleman’s Agreement.

A sweet and overtly orange concoction, the Gentleman’s Agreement is an agreeable sort,  originally created (and named) for Jack Daniel’s ‘superpremium’ Gentleman Jack brand, but equally good with other manufacturers’ offerings:

  1. Add a measure of bourbon, a 1/2 measure of triple sec, a 1/4 measure of sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters (orange if you have it) to a mixing glass 3/4 full of ice.
  2. Stir well and strain into a martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Bittered Slings

In the course of my legal training I was told that you should always start your contract or pleadings by naming the parties (see: About), setting out the recitals (see: Welcome) and then defining your terms. As seven years of legal training is hard to leave behind (the fact that all my correspondence, even emails to my mother, are still in my training firm’s house style is testament to that) this post is an attempt to define some key cocktail concepts.

Let’s start with cocktail itself. The origins of the word are, as you might expect, shrouded in a haze of uncertainty and contention, with early references surfacing in London in 1798 and the USA in 1803. Back in May 1806, however, The Balance and Columbian Repository, an estimable (I assume – I didn’t subscribe) weekly newspaper from Hudson, New York, published the earliest known definition of a cocktail in answer to a reader’s query:

Cock tail, then is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling, and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inasmuch as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head.

What qualified the editor of The Balance to make this defining statement is unclear, but there must have been some basis for it as the definition still holds true for some of the classic, and not coincidentally earliest-known cocktails, such as the Old Fashioned (whiskey, sugar, bitters and water), the Sazerac (whiskey, absinthe, sugar and bitters) and the Mint Julep (whiskey, mint, sugar and bitters).

The common modern definition is just any alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or two mixed with other ingredients and is perhaps as all-encompassing as could be imagined. In keeping with the era of their resurgence (the 1980s) modern cocktails have since became more and more garish in colour, content and decoration, and more and more lewd in their nomenclature.

Turning to each of the constituent parts then, liquor means any distilled spirit, but for the purposes of this post shall mean whiskey to me.

American whiskey (distinguishable by its use of an ‘e’) is to all intents and purposes either bourbon or rye. Bourbon is made from distilled corn and originally hailing from Bourbon County, Kentucky. Bourbon now has a strictly controlled legal definition (it must be made from at least 51% corn mash), but as the most famous American whiskeys are all bourbons, is often used to refer to any American whiskey. Despite this it is important to distinguish it from rye whiskey (at least 51% rye mash) and Canadian whisky (made in Canada and nearly always a blend of different grains).

Bourbon can now be made anywhere in the United States, but the historical link to the south remains, with the main brands, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s all hailing from Kentucky and Tennessee.

Rye whiskey was traditionally distilled in the northeast – Pennsylvania and Maryland in particular, but was badly affected by prohibition. As a result, few rye-only brands survive but many of the bourbon brands (eg Bulleit, Jim Beam and Four Roses) make an equivalent rye.

Throughout this site I will refer to whiskey when I mean bourbon or rye. Tradition or a more educated palate may suggest that one or other is preferred in any given drink, but I maintain that it is broadly a matter of personal taste.

Assuming water and sugar are known to most readers, the final crucial ingredient required for any classic cocktail is bitters.

A bitters is a highly-concentrated alcoholic concoction flavoured with herbs, spices and botanical extracts. The high concentration of often dangerous extracts gives these substances a highly bitter or bittersweet taste which was found to add an intriguing kill or cure kick to early cocktails. Most bitters have an interesting history and many were originally invented as miracle cure alls or medicinal tonics. In fact people still swear today that a drop of bitters in a glass of water is an admirable stomach-settler.

No bar is complete without at least a bottle of Angostura Bitters, the market leader, and any cocktail bar worth its salt will have a fascinating collection of apothecarial bottles stashed away on the back bar. Some even come with droppers, pipettes or rudimentary atomisers attached to bring a suitably Jekyll & Hyde look to your drinking establishment.