Bar manager Reid Dougherty could be explaining the tedious fine print of a term life insurance policy and it would still fall poignantly on our ears like a soothing dose of 16th century Romantic poetry. The high-end booze coursing through our veins might factor in, but when this cat muses about the spirits and stories behind craft cocktails, it conjures the enchanting spell we’ve come to associate exclusively with one of Charlottesville’s most elegant and classy spots: The Coat Room.
Tonight we’re back at this subterranean gem on a double date with new friends. As the night ages, the dialogue is charged with laughter and the perfect dose of filth. Thanks to the tight quarters, it could be TMI for our neighbors. Nothing breaks the ice better than the moment someone drops the first F-bomb, and once that delight is unleashed, we’re a band of drunken sailors no one knows quite what to do with.
Expertly, Dougherty reads the table and glides over to discuss nightcaps. His signature tone and cadence, a tranquil brand of intelligence, reel us in and tame us. We've been quietly anticipating this moment all evening - in no rush at all to conclude the merriment but knowing when we sat down how we would bookend it.
After all, since our last Coat Room experience, we've been crushing hard on A Much Better Rusty Nail.
A Much Better Rusty Nail
1 oz Suntory Toki
1 oz Carpano Antica Vermouth
3/4 oz War & Rust
1/2 oz Drambuie
Lemon peel (expressed and dropped like a mic)
We’ve been educated on the back story and have synthesized some tasting notes, but we sit back and enjoy as Dougherty pulls a Wordsworth and glamours us with poetic dimes of wisdom:
When we were throwing around ideas for The Coat Room (before it was even that), no idea was "wrong". And one of mine was to showcase some of the terrible cocktails that emerged out of the 60s and 70s. Godfather. Harvey Wallbanger. Grasshopper. The terrible version of the Old Fashioned that Don Draper makes. And yes, the Rusty Nail. Okay, some of them aren't terrible but could certainly use some...tweaking. And this is where the showcasing idea came in. Take those original recipes and make something better but that still respect the origins.
Well out of that not-at-all-wrong idea came A Much Better Rusty Nail. And as promised, there lurks the blended whiskey and the Drambuie of the original. But instead of Scotch, I use the Scotch-like Japanese Suntory Toki, arguably more subtle than most blended Scotches with just a touch of smoke. To that is added Carpano Antica vermouth - a full ounce - which lengthens, smooths out, and adds a nice vanilla note to the drink. Then comes War & Rust, a locally produced quinquina that is a wonderful nod to Barolo Chinato and other aromatized, cinchona bark-infused wines. This slightly bitter elixir balances the sweetness of the drink and adds surprising herbal notes. And lastly comes, of course, the Drambuie. This Scotch-based liqueur has strong honey and spice notes and gives the cocktail a wonderful, warming finish. Stir all that up, strain over a nice big ice cube, and express and drop a lemon peel over the top. The lemon oil hits your nose and helps reveal the flavors of the drink while simultaneously mellowing the sweetness on your palate.
War & Rust is a guilty pleasure we've yet to find on a cocktail menu, so the mere sight of it on Dougherty's list makes it a no-brainer order. He is right on about the bridge this mysterious spirit brings to the flavors in this jam. Like most craft cocktails, its personality changes as it breathes and dilutes. So far we have yet to put a finger on it's essence, which is probably why we keep lustfully coming back to it.
A Much Better Rusty Nail is not officially labeled an after dinner drink, but we've never busted a cap in a Charlottesville night with a wider smile. On a menu that promises to change with the coming seasons, here's hoping this one sticks around a while.