We’re mixing the Brandy Crusta on April 30 to honor Louisiana’s drinking history and the day it became a state. The drink itself was invented in New Orleans and was even part of the drinking repertoire well before statehood. It’s also the direct progenitor of the now-ubiquitous Sidecar cocktail. But before we get to the Brandy Crusta recipe, let’s take a detour through Louisiana and its history.
Let’s face it: Louisiana is mostly Mississippi River sediment. But the land there and the river have attracted attention since at least 5,000 years ago when hunter gatherers settled in what is now northern Louisiana. Europeans first showed up around 1528 when a Spanish expedition found the mouth of the Mississippi. But then for some reason they lost interest.
Things picked up late in the 17th century when French expeditions established a foothold on the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River. These were the times of colonialism, so France laid claim to the vast region drained by the river and named it La Louisiane. It’s good to be king; Louisiane was named after Louis XIV.
The excitement, of course, did not end there. France ceded territory east of the river to Great Britain after the Seven Years’ War (aka French and Indian War). The Spanish also moved back into the neighborhood. When the U.S. became independent from Great Britain in 1783 it was concerned about a European power on its western border. Thomas Jefferson was particularly worried about Napoleon’s plans to create a new sugar trade empire around the Mississippi River and Caribbean. So he appointed James Madison to try to buy New Orleans from France. The U.S. ended up paying about $15 million in 1803 for the entire Louisiana Territory of about 828,000 square miles. That turns out to have been a good deal.
The Mississippi river became a major trade route, which as we know from the Cocktail a la Louisiane was critical to bringing sufficient supplies of whiskey to New Orleans. So we can thank Thomas Jefferson for helping us to drink better. We can’t attribute it directly to the booze, but Louisiana became the 18th U.S. state on April 30, 1812.
The Brandy Crusta
Back in the mid-1800s a cocktail was very well defined: booze, sugar, bitters, water. It was a short drink and boozy. According to the cocktail historian David Wondrich in his book Imbibe! some New Orleans residents were not too fond of “the fiery cocktail” and wondered what lemon juice would do.
Around 1850 Joseph Santini took over the bar at New Orleans’ City Exchange, located in the heart of the French Quarter. He invented the Crusta, a cocktail variation that included citrus juice. The Crusta was a local affair until Jerry Thomas took notice and included it in his published Bar-Tenders Guide.
The Crusta concept itself was amenable to any number of spirits, but the Brandy Crusta is what everyone drank. It was not the most popular drink of the time, but became the direct progenitor of the Sidecar cocktail.
The Brandy Crusta is delicious, was invented in New Orleans and makes a good Drink of the Day in honor of statehood. Naturally, one could choose a Sazerac or Vieux Carre as we have done for Mardi Gras celebrations, but sometimes a little Vitamin C is a good idea.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- Moisten rim of glass and press down on a thin coating of sugar placed on a plate to rim the glass with sugar granules.
- Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.
- Garnish with lemon twist.