The Brandy Crusta

As David Wondrich tells it in Imbibe! (his book, not the magazine), the Crusta was invented in New Orleans around 1850 by one Joseph Santini. Jerry Thomas, author of arguably the first bartending guide, added it to his menu a few years later. And, while the Crusta itself never became hugely popular, it was an important step in the evolution of the cocktail, as it was the first, or among the first, to include fresh citrus juice as an ingredient. (Here we get into the finer points of nomenclature, for of course Punches existed at least that early and included juice, but those, technically speaking, aren’t “cocktails” per se. Semantics.)

The Crusta can be made with brandy, whiskey, or gin – this is, of course, the brandy version. Recipes vary from source to source. I was a bit intimidated by this drink, if only because of the picture Ted Haigh includes in his Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. The drink involved some intricate peeling of a lemon – although in this regard I parted ways somewhat from the historical roots of the Crusta.

I chose to follow the recipe in the Savoy Cocktail Book, mostly because it included a bit of Maraschino liqueur, which I felt would add some nice depth to this drink. It did.

The Recipe:

Slice the peel of half a lemon in one continuous spiral. Take a small wineglass, moisten the rim with a lemon, and dip into superfine sugar, coating the rim of the glass.

In a mixing glass, combine:

4 dashes (1/2 tsp.) lemon juice

3 dashes Maraschino liqueur

1 dash Angostura bitters

3/4 brandy

1/4 curaçao

Drop the lemon peel into the wine glass. Stir the other ingredients together with ice in the mixing glass and strain into the wine glass; garnish with a slice of orange.

I used 1 1/2 ounces of brandy and 1/2 an ounce of curaçao.

If you don’t have superfine sugar, just grind up some regular sugar in a food processor. This worked pretty well for me. You could probably just use the regular sugar and it would work nearly as well and some you some time and effort.

Illustrations in both Wondrich and Haigh show the lemon peel including the white pith – and it’s not really in a spiral, as is called for in the Savoy. It’s literally the peel of half a lemon, pared from the fruit and inserted into the glass. I did this slightly differently; using a nice, sharp peeler, I got a good spiral of just the yellow part of the peel, which I dropped into the glass as per the Savoy‘s directions. I can’t say for sure, but I imagine this gave my version a better flavor, allowing the lemon oils to leach out into the drink instead of being trapped beneath the pith.

Anyway, it turned out quite well, visually. I’m usually not a stickler for presentation, but was quite pleased with the final product.

Brandy CrustaTaste-wise, this was much better than the previously posted Brandy Cocktail. The inclusion of more curaçao certainly helped, but the Maraschino also played a big role, making this taste like a real cocktail and not just brandy. Finally, the crust of sugar on the rim, which presumably lent this drink its name, played very nicely with the other ingredients. As so often happens, this one definitely grew on me. Initially I was leaning towards three livers, but in the end, it gets a solid four livers. It’s a fair amount of work to make one of these, but if you want to churn out something a bit impressive-looking, the Brandy Crusta is a good choice.


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