Invented by an Italian bartender named Joseph Santini in New Orleans, the Crusta was one of the city’s first true calling-card cocktails; originally mixed in the 1850s, it predates even the rye whiskey–based Sazerac.
The Crusta’s defining feature—and what sets it apart from other so-called “fancy” cocktails in the Jerry Thomas taxonomy of drinks—is the elegant sugar rim from which it takes its name. Like so many classic cocktails, the base spirit was originally interchangeable (whiskey, gin and brandy were all acceptable), though the Brandy Crusta—a mixture of Curaçao, maraschino, lemon juice and, of course, brandy—quickly became the poster child of the category.
But, despite its lineage, the Crusta fell from fashion in the early 20th century, known only as the obscure forebear to the more popular sugar-rimmed Sidecar. That is, until recently.
At Jewel of the South in New Orleans, Chris Hannah and Nick Detrich have dedicated an entire concept to Joseph Santini, where, naturally, the Crusta is king. The Crusta Alcala is their mixture of tequila, mezcal, lime juice, yellow Chartreuse and a small measure of crème de cacao served in a glass coated with a coffee-sugar rim, garnished with an orange peel.
Other modern Crustas stick closer to the original blueprint. CJ Catalano’s Armagnac Crusta, for example, stays within the brandy family, subtly upgrading his take with a violet-sugar rim, while Owen Westman’s Winter Crusta simply swaps rye into the build and finishes the drink with a nutmeg-sugar rim for winter-ready rendition.
In Seattle, meanwhile, Abigail Gullo, a New Orleans transplant, offers the Piper’s Kilt at her bar, Ben Paris. Calling on the abundance of berries native to the Pacific Northwest, Gullo pulverizes dehydrated blackberries, marionberries and raspberries and mixes the fruit powder with sugar for the rim, while gin, local honey and raspberry liqueur round it out for a Crusta as true to her adopted city as the original is to NOLA.
The Modern Crustas