Cocktail & Other Recipes By Spirit Other Whiskey Cocktails

Nail in the Coffin

nail in the coffin cocktail in a Nick & Nora glass, set against a reflective wall / Tim Nusog

The spirit-forward Nail in the Coffin cocktail was created by bartender Brian Means while working at Dirty Habit, the fifth-floor restaurant and bar located within Hotel Zelos in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood. He combined Japanese whisky with dry Madeira wine, Licor 43 and Fernet-Branca and quickly found fans of his unique drink. The cocktail appears in Daniel Yaffe’s book, “Drink More Whiskey,” as an example of a modern way to mix with Japanese whisky.

According to Means, the cocktail is a twist on the Rusty Nail, the classic two-part drink combining scotch with Drambuie. In this case, Japanese whisky takes the place of scotch (the malt whiskies have similar profiles), and Licor 43—a sweet and citrusy Spanish liqueur that is flavored with vanilla—is subbed for Drambuie.

Madeira, a fortified Portuguese wine, adds structure and body, while Fernet-Branca provides a kick of its trademark bitterness. The amaro is made from a secret blend of 27 herbs, roots and spices, including saffron, rhubarb, chamomile and gentian. Stirred together, the full-flavored ingredients produce a complex and delicious drink, and the liquid is topped with fresh shaved black cardamom, which complements each sip with earthy, smoky and floral aromas.

The Nail in the Coffin tastes great at any time of day, but Means says the cocktail is meant to be enjoyed at the end of a meal, putting that final nail in the coffin of your night.


  • 1 1/2 ounces Yamazaki 12-year-old whisky

  • 3/4 ounce dry Madeira wine

  • 1/2 ounce Licor 43

  • 1/4 ounce Fernet-Branca

  • Garnish: black cardamom, freshly shaved


  1. Add the Japanese whisky, Madeira, Licor 43 and Fernet-Branca to a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.

  2. Strain into a Nick & Nora or coupe glass, and garnish with freshly shaved black cardamom.