Named for the sugar that rims the glass, the crusta was invented by bartender Joseph Santini, who worked at the New Orleans City Exchange bar around 1850. His brandy crusta takes the classic cocktail definition—spirits, sugar, water, and bitters—and adds lemon juice and an elaborate lemon peel garnish, which many historians, including famed 19th-century mixologist Jerry Thomas, say ushered in a whole new age for bartending, going so far as to declare the crusta “the missing link” in the development of the modern cocktail.
Santini’s invention also coincided with the first cocktail renaissance in America. While New York and Boston flourished in the 1840s, when luxury hotels sprang up to cater to a wealthy elite, the rest of the country, outside of major metropolitan areas, was more like the Wild West. “The East Coast benefited from the import of fine spirits from Europe, mostly brandy and gin,” says Francesco Lafranconi, the executive director of mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, adding that the arrival of high-quality liquors from Europe and ice from the northern states fueled an explosion of cocktail ingenuity. “We started to have the official birth of the American bar.”
As the railroads began crisscrossing the continent, both San Francisco and New Orleans became flashpoints of originality. In fact, apothecary Antoine Peychaud invented his eponymous bitters, an essential element of the classic sazerac, in New Orleans, where it is still made today.