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Drink of the Week: Brandy Crusta

Brandy Crusta DetailThe original definition of cocktail first published in 1806 was a simple combination of spirits, sugar, water and bitters. Drinks like the Old Fashioned and the Sazerac are good examples that have stood the test of time. Yet, recipes evolve, and it didn't take long for substitutions to occur. For example, instead of sugar and water, why not use simple syrup? And if you wanted a little exotic flair, perhaps you could even use a liqueur to sweeten your cocktail. At some point, citrus was introduced and by the time "Professor" Jerry Thomas wrote The Bar-Tenders Guide in 1862, the updated combination had a name. The Crusta was a fancy creation, all decked-out with a sugared rim and a huge lemon peel for a garnish. The good Professor predicted that the Crusta would eventually outshine the Cocktail. Was he right?

Even though most people have never even heard of a Brandy Crusta, there's no question that it has a lot going for it in the flavor department. Using liqueur to sweeten a cocktail instead of plain sugar isn't exactly revolutionary by today's standards, but back then, it certainly had its advantages. Combining more than one liqueur takes this idea even further, but it's the addition of lemon juice that transforms the drink. That touch of acidity gives the Crusta some balance without drowning out the flavor of the spirit. Of course, it still needs the bitters to bring it all together, but it's not really a Crusta unless you use the proper garnish.

Brandy CrustaBrandy Crusta
2 oz cognac
1 tsp Grand Marnier
1 tsp maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
.5 tsp simple syrup
2 tsp lemon juice
2 dashes bitters (Angostura)
large lemon peel

Stir the ingredients with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled wine glass or narrow cocktail goblet rimmed with sugar. Cut the peel off half of a lemon in one, wide continuous piece large enough to sit around the entire inside rim of the glass.

Making a Brandy Crusta requires more than just careful measurements and a cabinet of fine ingredients. If you want to make it properly, you need to prepare the glass with sugar. Rub the cut side of a lemon around the rim and dip the glass in a plate of sugar. Some people believe that the sugar-encrusted rim is where the Crusta gets its name. And then there's the all-important lemon peel. I have to admit that I never felt good about my presentation of this drink until I had the right glass. You really want the lemon peel to sit up inside the rim. With each sip, you cannot avoid the lemon oil scent, and I think that's the whole idea. However, I once had a fantastic Brandy Crusta at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, California that was served on the rocks. The bottom line: If you can pull it off, the presentation shown here is the classic configuration, but don't let knife skills or the wrong glass stop you from trying this drink. Even if you think you don't like brandy, these flavors are hard to beat. Is it better than other cocktails? I guess I am saying you could do a lot worse.

By the way, I've been meaning to write something about it (and I will), but I'll let the cat out of the bag now: I am running out of space for my growing collection of antique glassware. The glasses are also beginning to grow tired of Saint Paul, and are looking to mingle with new friends at cocktail parties in distant places. If you'd like to own this glass or others you have seen pictured on Summit Sips, many of them are for sale in the Antique/Vintage store. Most are in the Coupe/Cocktail section.

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