DIY Home Bar Menu: The Rusty Nail

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David and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson of 12 Bottle Bar are giving their home bar a makeover. And while the end result certainly makes a home DIY project worth the time and effort, there’s nothing quite like a cocktail to toast progress.

Layers. Whether designing a room or creating a cocktail, building layers are a key principle. In the first part of our home bar makeover, we laid the foundation by choosing and applying the primary colors. Once that was done, it was time to add the layers.

Despite being built in the late1980s, somewhere along the way, our house gained a charming bungalow/farmhouse interior, complete with bead-board ceilings and wainscoting in the main living areas. We decided that to integrate our new bar more seamlessly with the adjoining rooms, we would carry the wainscoting through and because the bar ceiling was self-contained—not flowing into another room—we would add crown molding to ease the transition between the blue walls and the white overhead. To complete the look, we chose to case the large window in the room as well as the bar side of a pass-through, which had been installed by a previous owner.

As we had painted the walls of our new bar a calming Blue .03 (eggshell) from Crate and Barrel’s Colorhouse paint collection and the ceiling the bright, reflective White .01, (flat) we wanted a color that would both complement the new colors and add another layer of depth to the room. We chose Crate’s White .02 in semi-gloss. The color is creamier and warmer than White .01, and the semi-gloss finish provides another level of texture to the walls, grounding the wooden portions of the room.

About the Rusty Nail

Speaking of layers and warmth, let’s talk the Rusty Nail, the granddaddy of Scotch cocktails. If you’re familiar at all with our book, The 12 Bottle Bar, then you’ll know that Scotch does not count among our 12 bottles. It is, however, impossible to present a series of DIY-themed cocktails without including the Rusty Nail, so here we go.

The chief appeal of the Rusty Nail drink is in the ease with which it is made—just two ingredients, Scotch and spiced honey-Scotch liqueur, best known as Drambuie—and its forgiveness. Add too much liqueur? You can fix that by adding more Scotch and vice versa. As stated, easy and forgiving. It is a cocktail that is the opposite of woodworking, after a long day of which, you need an easy, forgiving, and stiff drink. But not just any drink. Whereas many cocktails are built around a balance of contrasting ingredients—sour versus sweet, for example—the Rusty Nail takes a nice Scotch and adds more Scotch, smoothes it out with honey, and then brings in complementary herbal and spice notes to create layer upon layer of depth. It’s the drink equivalent of a walk in the highlands while wearing a cozy sweater.

Where the similarities between the second chapter in our DIY home bar project and the Rusty Nail lie is in the layers. By layering different whites in different finishes (semi-gloss against flat) and different surface textures (a smooth ceiling and detailed woodwork), we were able to add subtle layers to the room. On top of this, we replaced the existing electrical outlets with black industrial-style plugs and antiqued brass covers. Whereas many people choose to have their electrical outlets seamlessly blend into the walls, we chose to have them not only contrast with the walls—adding another visual layer—but also to complement the industrial, antiqued brass Morela Glass Pendant Light and some of the furniture that would be coming.

In the Rusty Nail, it’s the spiced honey-Scotch liqueur that brings in much of the depth. Recipes for making a DIY version can take up to six months, but we were looking for something much quicker. It’s important to note that homemade versions of liqueurs and infusions will seldom, if ever, taste exactly like the store-bought brands, but that’s really the point of DIY. Make it yourself; make it your own.

And that, ultimately, is the goal of layering. Pick interesting layers and allow them to co-mingle without much additional adornment. Pick elements that both complement and contrast with one another. Here, poured over a large ice cube in an elegantly simple Hatch Rocks Glass, the appeal of the Rusty Nail becomes readily apparent. Easy and forgiving—just the way DIY should be.


Spiced Honey-Scotch Liqueur

  • 2 cups of Scotch, preferably not overly peaty
  • 8 star anise pods
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup honey, preferably heather, wildflower, or similar

Add the star anise and the rosemary to the Scotch in a container and set aside. After 4 hours, check the anise infusion and, if strong enough, remove the anise pods. After 12 hours, do the same with the rosemary. When tasting, the anise and rosemary should be noticeable but not overpowering.

Warm the honey slightly and mix into the Scotch infusion, stirring until dissolved.

Keep in a covered container or bottle.


The Rusty Nail

  • 2 ounces Scotch
  • ½ ounce Spiced Honey-Scotch Liqueur (or more, to taste)

Add both ingredients to a rocks glass over ice. Stir or swirl gently to combine.

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