Gone but Not Forgotten: The Crusta

Crusta 2While these days we lump pretty much all mixed drinks save juleps and eggnog under the all-encompassing moniker of “cocktails” or—my gorge rises at it—”martini,” it was not always so.

A cocktail was just one of many styles of drinks that included daisies, slings, cobblers, smashes, sours, blazers, fixes, flips, and punches to name just a few. Things were more colorful in the old days. That is, of course, if you discount cholera, widespread poverty, violent labor strikes, and the First World War.

Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930 included most of these distinctively named libations except for one: the crusta. Looking at the other categories, most are just slight variations on the basic cocktail of liquor, sweetener, and bitters. A Flip, for example, contains egg; a Fizz has fruit juice and fizzy water; a Rickey is basically a Fizz with a twist; and the Smash is “in effect a julep on a small plan.” The Crusta, listed in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 bar guide, is nowhere to be found.

The crusta stands alone in execution and presentation much like the pousse cafe, or layered drink, but less ostentatious. The original idea was to introduce citrus juice to the cocktail (a big deal at the time) in a unique and eye-pleasing way. So, instead of adding the subtle twist of rind we are so used to today, it was decided to add the whole damn peel. Oh, and a sugared rim. And, what the hell while we are at it, a splash of juice. Here is how Jerry Thomas describes it.

Crusta is made the same as a fancy cocktail with a little lemon juice and a small lump of ice added. First mix the ingredients in a small tumbler, then take a fancy red wine glass, rub a sliced lemon around the rim of the same, and dip it in pulverized white sugar, so that the sugar will adhere to the edge of the glass. Pare half a lemon the same as you would an apple (all in one piece) so the paring will fit in the wine glass, as shown in the cut, and strain the crusta from the tumbler into it. Then smile.

Here is how it works.

Brandy-Crusta-Jerry-ThomasUsing a vegetable peeler, pare half the lemon in one long strip (or the entire lemon if you are making two drinks). Test fit it in the glass and trim if necessary. Prepare your cocktail glass by rubbing the rim with lemon then dipping it into super-fine sugar. Place the glass into the freezer to get it cold and solidify the sugar.

Thomas’s recipe for a brandy cocktail with modern equivalents:

3 or 4 dashes of gum syrup (simple syrup)

2 dashes of bitters (Angostura)

1 wine-glass of brandy (2 ounces)

2 goodly dashes of curaçao (Grand Marnier)

A little lemon juice (1 tsp)

Stir ingredients with ice until cold and strain into your prepared cocktail glass.

Thomas does not define how much lemon juice to use, but this drink is not intended to be a sour, so a couple of dashes should do the trick. You can also try different bitters with this one as the one specified by Thomas is no longer made. A later variation substitutes maraschino liqueur for the curaçao. 

This cocktail takes a bit more work, but if you have several to make, the glasses can be prepared ahead of time and kept in the freezer, then all you have to do is mix and pour. Join the Crusta Cult. Make one today.