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 It was originally made exclusively by the Broadford Hotel on the Isle of Skye in the 1870s, then the recipe was sold to commercial producers in the early 20th century.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.
New Orleans, 1800s
Milk Punch may be the ultimate “oh, why the hell not?” drink.
Just about as soon as folks in England figured out how to distill beverage alcohol, they figured out booze went great with milk and a little sugar, mixing up all kinds of Egg Nogs and punches. They drank their Milk Punch hot, out of a big sweaty communal bowl, and cut with lemon juice. That’s all well and fine for the time, I suppose. 16th century, what are you gonna do? But people in New Orleans already knew all about hot and sweaty – so they got this drink back on the right track by cooling it over crushed ice, softening it with vanilla, and making it purty and fragrant with a dusting of nutmeg.
Our friends down in New Orleans have perfected the art of day-drinking (and night-drinking, too, now that I think of it). That’s not to give any credit to the boorish bros and misguided tourists on Bourbon Street – they’re not included among our friends. You and I, we prefer the finer things in life. And there are few things finer than this soothing combination of spirit, milk, sugar, and vanilla. In New Orleans, it’s not uncommon to enjoy a Brandy Milk Punch with breakfast, a Pimm’s Cup while waiting out the muggy afternoon storm, a Sazerac before dinner… all best enjoyed with a savory, gut-busting meal and the company of a good friend.
Try this with a good brandy or cognac (or 50/50 with an aged Jamaican rum). Bourbon is also common, but makes for a slightly sweeter drink. This is also a chance to use that delicious batch of homemade vanilla syrup – but in a pinch, you can use regular simple syrup and three drops of real vanilla extract.
Look, this drink won’t do your waistline any favors. But somedays… just getting out of bed is enough of an accomplishment. Cut yourself some slack.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Muddler or mallet, Lewis bag, Nutmeg Grater or Microplane
Ice: Ice cubes, crushed ice
Glassware: Old Fashioned glass
Spirit: Brandy or cognac (recommended: Germain-Robin Craft Method) or Bourbon (recommended: Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey 81)
Mixers: Whole milk, Vanilla syrup
Garnish: Freshly-grated nutmeg
Using a Lewis bag, crush enough ice to fill an Old Fashioned glass about two-thirds full to a fine, even consistency by pounding with a muddler or mallet.
In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:
2 oz brandy (or cognac) or bourbon
2 oz whole milk
3/4 oz vanilla syrup
Shake well to blend and chill, then double-strain into the ice-filled glass. Top with a dusting of freshly-grated nutmeg.
Barbados (early 18th century)
This is the most you’ll ever hear me talk about The Bible, not just on this site, but ever. Get it while you can.
What that old book has to do with the tiny southern Caribbean island of Barbados, I’ll share in a moment. It’s my grand (and more than slightly half-assed) theory of where this name “Corn ‘n’ Oil” came from. The drink itself is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it situation, and the drink’s name has encouraged even more dissension, with plenty of ideas about what the hell corn and oil have to do with rum, lime, and Caribbean spices.
Up through the 15th century, the native Arawak people had Barbados to themselves (and most likely created the idea of spit-roasted wood-smoked meat, “barbacoa,” the granddaddy of southern US barbecue). Thanks for that. Spanish explorers (you know, the guys who “explored” the fun to be had with raping and pillaging) arrived in the 15th century. It didn’t take long for the Arawaks to leave Barbados and get replaced by droves of pigs imported by the Spanish, left to graze and be reclaimed for dinner on a return voyage. The English colonized Barbados in the 17th century, and although independent now, it remains part of the British Commonwealth. Some Arawak people eventually returned when the coast was clear of “explorers.”
In the early 18th century, German Protestant missionaries arrived in Barbados. Funny enough, that was around the same time the Barbadians (“Bajans”) learned how to distill rum from the molasses left over from making sugar. And, following the production of rum, they came up with a delightful homemade liqueur of rum, ginger, lime, almond, allspice, and clove they called “falernum.” Now, falernum was the Latin name for the popular and coveted wine grown by the farmer Falernus in the foothills of Mount Mossico in Italy way back in Biblical Roman times. How did the Bajans get this name for their spiced liqueur? It’s gotta be by way of the missionaries.
Here comes The Bible stuff:
“…I will give you the rain of your land in His due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.” — Deuteronomy 11:14
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to take this Biblical idea of an agricultural tribute sacrifice to God (corn, wine, and oil – they crop up several times in the book) and have the native Bajans adapt it to sanctify their homegrown hooch, their easy punch of rum, falernum, and lime as “Corn ‘n’ Oil.” After all, it may taste devilish to some, like manna from heaven to others.
In 1890, John D. Taylor of Bridgetown, Barbados, began selling his falernum commercially. It’s still commonly available today as “Velvet Falernum” — but I don’t recommend it. Compared to homemade or to the commercial version by B.G. Reynolds, well… there’s no comparison. Likewise, some great rums from Barbados are easy to come by, notably Mount Gay “Eclipse” and Plantation Barbados 2001 — really stellar on their own or in other drinks, but they tend to fade in this particular cocktail. Some fire & brimstone is in order here, and it fell to Murray Stenson to revive this almost-lost drink while he was working at Seattle’s Zig Zag Café, and his idea of using Cruzan Black Strap Rum from the Virgin Islands has become the industry standard. The deep, black, almost sulfurous molasses flavor of the blackstrap balances the sweet spicy ginger of the falernum, keeping the drink from becoming cloying or limp. A bright dash of lime’s acid across the crushed ice gives your lips something to think about while you sip the drink, and helps solidify the cap of crushed ice on top.
The mystery of how Murray learned about the Corn ‘n’ Oil remains, though… I hope to get the answer out of him someday.
The first couple times I tried this drink (using different recipes), I hated it… until I tried the version served at Portland’s amazing tiki bar Hale Pele by proprietor Blair Reynolds (the same guy behind the previously-mentioned B.G. Reynolds line of syrups & liqueurs). Blair was kind enough to share his preferred recipe for the Corn ‘n’ Oil, and it’s turned me into a believer.
Here endeth the lesson.
Hardware: Shaker, Jigger
Ice: Crushed ice
Glassware: Rocks glass
Spirits: Blackstrap rum (recommended: Cruzan Black Strap)
Mixers & Liqueurs: falernum (recommended: BG Reynolds’ or make your own; recipe linked above)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Lime wedge (reserve from squeezing)
In a shaker about a half-full with crushed ice, add:
1 1/2 oz black strap rum
1/2 oz falernum
Shake briefly to blend. Pour unstrained into a rocks glass. Mound with additional crushed ice. Over the drink, squeeze:
1 lime wedge (one quarter lime)
Garnish with the spent lime wedge.