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.
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McKinley’s Delight

This week’s #MidweekManhattan variant is McKinley’s Delight, a fantastic adaptation that dates back to William McKinley’s successful run for the White House in 1896. While my knowledge of Mr McKinley extends only as far as the John Renbourn song, White House Blues, which I covered in a band at university, it appears that the story is that as McKinley’s rival, William Jennings Bryan, had a cocktail linked to his campaign (the Free Silver Fizz: gin, lime and soda water), McKinley had to have one too.

You see, back in the nineteenth century, cocktails had somewhat of a reputation as being aids to electioneering. The Balance and Colombian Repository had declared, when defining cocktail for the first time:

[A cocktail] 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. It is said also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate: because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any thing else.

As a result, McKinley’s team (I assume) set to work to come up with their own signature drink. I have images of West Wing staffers busying themselves in Toby Ziegler’s office, or perhaps the Map Room, mixing and tasting furiously, trying to find a way to embody McKinley’s love of tariff reform in liquid form.

After this, all history records is that McKinley won the election, and, as far as I’m concerned, McKinley’s Delight is by far the superior drink of the two. Perhaps there’s a lesson here, and a return to candidate-endorsed drinks is the way to liven up future campaign trails?

Anyway, politicking aside, the recipe for the McKinley’s Delight is as follows:

  1. Pour a large measure of whiskey, a small measure of sweet vermouth, a teaspoon of maraschino and half a teaspoon of absinthe into a shaker with ice.
  2. Stir well and strain into a martini glass.

The only change to my standard Manhattan is the replacement of a dribble of bitters with a dribble of absinthe (or absinthe substitute in those dark days 1914-2000), but what a difference it makes!

Leap Year

Photo by MetaGrrrl, some rights reserved

As today is 29 February, it seems fitting to include a wee potion that has been credited with (blamed for?) more proposals than any other, the Leap Year.

This sweet Martini alternative was born at the Savoy in 1928 and therefore celebrates its 84th (or 21st) birthday today.  Harry Craddock, the barman created the drink for the Leap Year celebrations, and it seems fitting to raise one tonight, in honour of those poor leaplings (but only those over the age of err four and a half?)

The mixture of aromatic sweetness born of the Grand Marnier and vermouth clashes somewhat with the botanical bitterness of the gin and produces an interesting combination on the tongue.  Despite this, there is a pleasing bittersweet hint to the drink, and it is well worth savouring once every four years.

You make the Leap Year classic as follows:

  1. Add a large measure of gin (Plymouth rather than London), half a measure of sweet vermouth, half a measure of Grand Marnier and the juice of half a lemon to a shaker of ice.
  2. Shake well and strain into a martini glass.
  3. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

Pass one to your man, take a deep gulp of your own, and get down on one knee…

Old Fashioned

Photo by ReeseCLloyd, some rights reserved.

Legend has it that the Old Fashioned was one of the first cocktails ever created. The story is that it was conceived at The Pendennis Club, Louisville, Kentucky in the late nineteenth century, and having been popularised by local bourbon distiller Colonel (of course!) James Pepper, it was taken to New York to be enjoyed by such luminaries as Sterling Cooper’s own Don Draper.

There is much to support the Old Fashioned’s claim to be one of the oldest known cocktails. You will see from my Bittered Slings post that it neatly fits the early criteria of a bittered sling or cocktail, as it contains just the liquor (in this case whiskey), bitters, sugar and water (in this case frozen).

Whatever its vintage, however, the Old Fashioned is a punchy cocktail for those who hold no truck with paper umbrellas and sparklers getting in the way of their imbibement. The exact composition is something that enthusiasts can argue about for days. Does an Old Fashioned require rye or bourbon? A muddled orange? A cherry? The earliest known recipe (dating from 1895 no less) instructs:

Dissolve a small lump of sugar with a little water in a whiskey-glass; add two dashes bitters, a small piece ice, a piece lemon-peel, one measure whiskey. Mix with small bar-spoon and serve, leaving spoon in glass. – Kappeler (1895). Modern American Drinks: How to Mix and Serve All Kinds of Cups and Drinks.

Now aside from running the risk of poking your eye out with a bar spoon, this recipe neglects the now expected hint of orange. For that reason, my preferred method is as follows:

  1. Place a sugar cube (or a teaspoon of sugar syrup or sugar), three dashes of bitters and a dash of water in a mixing glass.
  2. Muddle (i.e. mush up) until the sugar dissolves and you are left with a syrupy paste. Don’t scrimp on the muddling, the sugar needs to be fully dissolved before the whiskey is added or it won’t bind properly.
  3. Add a two ice cubes and a measure of whiskey.
  4. Stir gently (thirty times).
  5. Repeat steps three and four.
  6. Strain into a rocks glass (also known as an od fashioned glass) with or without ice (your preference).
  7. Garnish with a twist of orange or lemon peel or a cherry.

Finally, by no means even consider adding soda water or *gasp* lemonade.

What you are left with is a small glass of pure cocktail history: spirits, sugar, water and bitters.