Despite the slightly longer than usual gap, I still find myself surprised and unprepared for another Mixology Monday, this time hosted by Marleigh over at Sloshed! The topic this month is brandy, a subject which offers many possibilities from Cognac and Calvados to the altogether different tastes of Pisco or even kirsch. However this month, as is slowly becoming habbit for MxMO, I have chosen to look at a very classic cocktail – the Brandy Crusta.
Like the Sazerac the Brandy Crusta is a product of New Orleans in the mid-nineteenth century – more precisely the product of Joseph Santini who took over the New Orleans’ City Exchange bar around 1850. The Crusta builds on the traditional “cocktail” of spirit, sugar, bitters and water by adding citrus juice to the mix, and also introduces a rather elaborate garnish which no doubt helped with its popularity.
Brandy Crusta (Jerry’s version)
- 2 shots / 60 ml / 2 oz brandy
- 1 bar-spoon sugar syrup
- 1 bar-spoon lemon juice
- ½ bar-spoon Cointreau
- 2 dashes aromatic bitters
- Shake all ingredients with ice and strain in to a sugar-rimmed wine glass. Garnish with a large strip of lemon peel looped around the top of the glass.
The Brandy Crusta uses the most elaborate garnish I have ever attempted to recreate – a sugar-rimmed glass with the skin of a lemon around the rim acting as a second lip to the glass. It all looks very good, but unless you have a short wine glass (which I sadly didn’t) it is very difficult to have the lemon peel sit without falling in to the drink and becoming lost. It is also nearly impossible to drink with the lemon like this (which I sadly tried) so once I’d taken the photos I let the lemon fall to the bottom of the glass and sit like a giant lemon twist.
After all the hassle with presentation, the drink thankfully stands up as a pretty tasty mixture. Brandy clearly dominates, but the sugar-rim, sugar syrup and Cointreau sweeten the drink up which mellows the strong alcohol nicely. Despite the small amount used the Cointreau also introduces a slight orange hint, which mingles well with the aromatics of the bitters. The lemon also surprises in its effect despite the small amount, clearly introducing a slight sour edge.
Compared to many cocktails, including most of my favourites, the Brandy Crusta is fairly sweet but it is by no means sickly and overall balances nicely. Any more lemon juice and the subtleties of the other ingredients would begin to get lost, and you would end up with a badly made Sidecar.
Brandy Crusta (Savoy version)
- 1 ½ shots / 45 ml / 1 ½ oz brandy
- ½ shots / 15 ml / ½ oz Cointreau
- 1 ½ bar-spoons lemon
- 1 bar-spoon Maraschino
- 1 dash aromatic bitters
- Fill sugar-rimmed wine glass with ice and add the spiral of half a lemon. Stir all ingredients well and strain in to glass.
Eighty years later and several thousand miles to the east in London, the Savoy Cockail Book presents a Crusta which has gained Maraschino and replaces the sugar syrup/Cointreau mix with purely Cointreau. This appears to be the recipe most modern interpretations of the Crusta come from, although many up the lemon juice making it far more sour than either of these recipes ever intended the Crusta to be.
The increased Cointreau results in the brandy taking more of a back seat, with much stronger orange flavours coming through as well as hints of cherry funk from the Maraschino. It remains a sweet cocktail, but doesn’t quite become saccharine resulting in another excellent drink. While both these recipes result in cocktails far sweeter than the sours that are more common today, if you can get over the initial surprise they are very rewarding.
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