Crustas Cocktail with jigger and mixing glass

What are Crustas Cocktails?

By Timo Torner / Last updated on March 13, 2022 
Crustas is a category of cocktails. Drinks from this group follow a particular ingredient pattern and always are served in a certain type of glass with the same kind of garnish.

Crustas is the name of a small group of classic cocktails that always are served in stemmed glasses. These cocktails consist of a spirit base mixed with sugar, fresh lemon juice, and cocktail bitters. Their look is pretty iconic as they get served with extra-large lemon zest and a sugar rim.

Even though not many actually have tried a Crusta, it's an influential part of cocktail history. If you want, you can see it as a forerunner of today's Margarita cocktail.

What are Crustas Cocktails?

The Crustas owe their name to the sugar rim, which, expectedly, get crusted with some sugar. And to achieve a decent crusted rim, the sugar needs to be applied a couple of hours before the drink is served. That way, the sugar rim will dry through and stick better to the glass.

As mentioned, a Crusta cocktail is always a spirit mixed with freshly squeezed lemon juice, sugar, and cocktail bitters. The sweetening sugar part can either be syrup or a liqueur. Its history is quite interesting, and the drink was part of many cocktail recipe books. So let's take a closer look at the Crusta cocktails past.

History of the Crustas

Crustas, besides a considerable number of other classic cocktails, originates from New Orleans. What makes this extra special in that respect is, that it is probably the very first one of many that became famous. First mixed in the 1850s by bartender Joseph Santini, it's even older than the Ramos Gin Fizz and the Sazerac.

The Crustas are also among the first cocktails having quite a complex, signature way of presentation and garnish. That's also the reason why this drink, in particular, outshone many others when first appeared in Jerry Thomas's "How to Mix Drinks" in 1862.

As with many cocktail recipes in the early days, you could easily swap the base spirit. No matter if Whiskey, Gin, or Brandy - all of them were okay to use. But one of them quickly became somewhat of the leader of the Crustas - the Brandy Crusta.

And on a side note: a good Brandy Crusta strongly relies on a quality Cognac. That and the perfect balance between Brandy and citrus will lift your Brandy Crusta from good to great.

Garnish it the right way

The Crustas cocktails have been standing out visually since Joseph Santini brought them to life. Before, there was no cocktail with a garnished rim at all. So this clearly was the role model for one of the most iconic yet classic ways to decorate cocktail glasses. And the sugar crust is only the first part of the drinks' garnish.

The second part is the lemon peel, or rather the lemon ring, to be precise. However, this traditional and correct way to garnish a Crusta cocktail rarely is practiced. In most cases, a large and thick lemon peel is put inside the glass so that it is just peeking out. -When you drink a Crusta garnished like that, you have to push the peel inside the glass before taking a sip. And that is totally different from the traditional way of garnishing.

If you do it the right way, you take a lemon that is just small enough to fit into a narrow wine or sparkling wine glass. It has to sit really tight. Like that, it can work as an extension of the actual glass.

Then you cut off the lower and upper parts of the lemon and also remove the fruit pulp. What you get is a solid lemon ring that you can insert into your glass. The lower part will be inside, the upper part above the rim. When you drink now, your lips will only touch the lemon, not the glass.

The most important thing is to make sure that the lemon fits skin tight. When you drink your Crusta, no liquid should be dripping out. If you get this right: Congrats, you mastered one of the oldest and most iconic cocktail garnishes out there.

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