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Pear Brandy Crusta

Pear Brandy Crusta

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December 5, 2013


Elsa Säätelä

This delicious Prohibition-inspired drink is created by Mulberry Project in New York.



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  • 0.5 Ounce Poire Williams
  • 1.5 Ounces Hennessy VS
  • 0.5 Ounce maraschino liqueur
  • 0.5 Ounce Combier
  • 7.5 Ounces lemon juice


Shake all ingredients with ice then strain and pour the liquid into a sugar-rimmed glass and garnish with a whole grapefruit peel.


New Favorite Indulgence: Pear Brandy

Many months ago, we bought a bottle of pear brandy to make a pear clafouti, which turned out to be a disappointment (unlike this berry one, which Faith highly recommends). The brandy sat in a cupboard, forgotten, until we pulled it out to make a version of Nora’s Thanksgiving Poinsettia cocktail. Now we’re newly addicted to this stuff, and we’ve got more info, including the origin of this picture and how they got the pear inside the bottle, below…

You’re likely to see pear brandy sold as Poire William, since the pears distilled to make the brandy are called Williams’ Bon Chétien in France and much of the world (here, they’re known as Bartlett).

Authentic Poire William is made in Alsace or in Switzerland, but Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Oregon also makes a pear brandy that’s gotten rave reviews in a few publications. We found the above photo when browsing on Flickr, but turns out it’s from Maggie Mason, who writes the Mighty Girl, Mighty Junior, Mighty Haus, and Mighty Goods blogs.

So, how did the fully-formed pear get inside the bottle? Companies actually place a bottle over a tiny bud of the immature fruit, then allow it to grow in the bottle. We’re having a hard time imagining the sight of this, but it makes for a cool presentation (and a more expensive product, naturally).

You can sip a good pear brandy straight from the glass, but since ours wasn’t super high-quality, we mixed it with champagne and a tiny splash of cranberry juice for color. It was delicious–and next time, we’ll probably skip the cranberry juice. We’re also thinking of flavoring ice cream with it or adding it to sautéed pears for dessert.

We’ve got a good recipe we want to try, which we’ll show you tomorrow. Anyone else have a favorite use for pear brandy?

Elizabeth Passarella is the author of the essay collection Good Apple and a contributing editor at Southern Living. A former editor at Real Simple and Vogue, she has spent more than 20 years writing about food, travel, home design, and parenting in outlets including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Parents, Martha Stewart Weddings, Coastal Living, Airbnb, and The Kitchn. Elizabeth grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and now lives with her husband and three children in New York City.

Crusta Alcala

  • 1 1/4 ounce blanco tequila
  • 1/2 ounce mezcal, preferably Del Maguey Vida
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse
  • 1/4 ounce Creme de Cacao
  • 2 dashes chocolate bitters
  1. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake until chilled.
  2. Strain into a cocktail glass rimmed with a coffee-sugar mixture (see Editor's Note) and garnish with an orange peel.
Editor's Note

To make the coffee-sugar rim, simply combine finely ground coffee and sugar in a ratio of 1:2.

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The most Important Ingredient

There isn’t any one important ingredient in this cocktail but instead all the ingredients coming together in the proper balance. but if I tried to narrow it down I would say the brandy, orange liqueur and gum syrup are the most important parts of this cocktail to get right. You want to use a good base spirit for this cocktail as none of the other ingredients are made to mask the flavor of a lower quality spirit. So what ever the quality of the base spirit you use will make a meaningful difference in the final product. The orange liqueur matters too because cheap orange liqueurs are typically not very good. I love buying on value, but I’ve never found a cheaper orange liqueur that also tasted good and with how this drink is structured you will notice a cheap orange liqueur. Lastly the gum syrup. You can use a standard simple syrup if you prefer and what that will change is the texture of the cocktail. Gum Syrup has gum arabic in it and gives the cocktail a velvety texture similar to what egg whites provide. A smooth, meringue-y, velvet, dessert like texture. Standard simple syrup will not add this texture and make for a thinner liquid texture cocktail, but you may prefer that. If you like your sours without egg whites then opt for using standard simple syrup but if you like sours with egg whites then buy a bottle of gum syrup and give it a go.

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R um is a broad family of spirits distilled from fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses, or other sugarcane byproducts. This sugarcane base gives rum the sweetest profile of all the popular spirits, but don't let that fool you: rum is not all one-dimensional sweetness, in fact it has some of the most complex flavors of any family of spirits, ranging from confectionary goodness to earthy funk.

Possibly as early as the 16th century, fermented cane juice was being distilled in Brazil, resulting in the spirit now known as cachaca. Sugar has been cultivated in the Caribbean for centuries. Molasses based rum has its earliest known origins in the Caribbean, where it was first refined and commercialized in Barbados. The molasses byproduct of sugar production was considered waste until, at some point, sugar producers realized this waste was fermenting, and they decided to make something of it. Distillation techniques were refined and well-known by this point, so it was a natural move to distill the fermented molasses and make a delicious beverage. Not surprisingly, it was a hit among sailors, pirates, and American colonists. Rum is tied to the social, economic, and political history of the colonial islands and America at large. In his excellent book And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, Wayne Curtis puts it simply: “Rum is the history of America in a glass. It was invented by New World colonists for New World colonists.”

Rum can legally be distilled anywhere in the world, but it’s most commonly associated with places like Trinidad, Jamaica, Cuba, Guyana, Barbados, and Mexico. Classification of rum can be tricky and some deem the “color” system meaningless. In the book Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki, Smuggler’s Cove offers a more elaborate classification system based on how the rums are made, which we respect and recommend to anyone interested in rum. However, for a small home bar, it does make it easier to stock a few bottles that conform to the language of many cocktail recipes. Rum is very confusing, but the way to break it down is not actually that different from more familiar spirits. The main differentiators are the variety of sugar product that is distilled, the type of still used for distilling, and the aging process. Jamaica is perhaps currently the most prolific rum producing nation, known for its pot stilled molasses rums with an intense, full bodied flavor. Continuous column stills, on the other hand, are used to produce white spirits. Cuba is famous for column-distilled lighter rum, with Bacardi leading the way. Countries such as Martinique and Guadeloupe are famed for producing a distinctive style of spirit distilled from the fresh juice of sugarcane, known as rhum agricole.

Rum was used in some of the earliest documented punches and was very popular in proto-cocktail drinks in colonial America. During prohibition, Americans flooded Cuba and fell in love with the lighter Bacardi rums and their associated cocktails, like the timeless Daiquiri. Cheap island rum became popular during WW2, and lighter rums dominated for some time. Aided by the latest cocktail wave and the rise of micro distillers, the last few decades have seen a resurgence of production and consumption of premium rums, with an emphasis on aged varieties. The most popular use for rum in the cocktail world is in tiki drinks: these long drinks are served in tropical destinations around the world, where they are often preferred by cocktail skeptics for their fruity, sweet profiles. That said, rum is one of the most versatile spirits in the world and can be employed in almost any style of drink.

Pear Brandy

Add all liquid ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir for about 15 seconds. Squeeze the zest of the grapefruit, skin side down, to add the oils of the skin, then discard the zest. If you're feeling fancy, add a slice of pear as garnish.

Recipe: Jeff Levy/Turntable Kitchen Photo: Hannah Levy

Perfect Pear

1 oz St. George All Purpose Vodka
1 oz St. George Pear Brandy
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz fresh lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime twist.

Recipe: St. George Spirits Photo: St. George Spirits


1 teaspoon St. George Pear Brandy
6 oz chilled demi-sec Champagne

Coat the inside of a Champagne flute with pear brandy, then fill with bubbly. Garnish with thin slices of fresh pear. Festive, elegant, easy!

Recipe: St. George Spirits Photo: St. George Spirits


2 oz St. George Pear Brandy
tonic water
fresh mint leaves

Pour brandy and tonic over ice in a Collins glass and stir gently. Garnish with fresh mint.

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1 oz St. George Pear Brandy
1 1/2 oz apple cider
Angostura Bitters
sugar cube

Soak sugar cube in bitters. Shake other ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Flame sugar cube and drop into drink.

Recipe: St. George Spirits Photo: St. George Spirits


1 1/2 oz St. George Pear Brandy
1/2 oz ginger liqueur
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup

Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain into a sugar-rimmed cocktail glass.

Recipe: Bitsy Eddy at Fireside Lounge, Alameda Photo: Bitsy Eddy


3 oz St. George Pear Brandy
1/2 oz Small Hand Foods Orgeat
soda water

Pour pear brandy and orgeat into a highball glass filled with ice and stir. Top with soda water.

Recipe: St. George Spirits Photo: St. George Spirits

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An Old-Fashioned the hard way: the Brandy Crusta

I would wager that most people have never encountered a crusta, or even heard of one.

So what is that thing? And why should we care?

The crusta is one of the many early embellishments of the original cocktail, the spirits-water-sugar-bitters one we think of now as the Old-Fashioned. Bartenders have always been an imaginative bunch, on the lookout for something new to sell, and the middle of the nineteenth century was a time of experimentation and the development of what were known at the time as “fancy” or “improved” cocktails.

What is a crusta?

The crusta, specifically the Brandy Crusta, is the forerunner of the modern Sidecar. And of the Margarita. And the Cosmopolitan.

But it’s quite a leap from the crusta prototype to those more familiar cocktails. The ingredients are all there, but the proportions are nearly unrecognizable: in the crusta, there’s only a hint of citrus, and just a touch of sweetener, with both measured in mere dashes. None of this 2:1:1 proportion we see in the modern sour. The crusta amounts to a glass of spirits with a a tiny amount of flavorings—and a remarkable garnish.

Jerry Thomas was the first to publish the formula, but cocktail historians suggest that he almost certainly picked it up from New Orleans bartender Joseph Santini sometime in the 1850s. It’s interesting to speculate about whether we would be talking about it now if Thomas hadn’t found it interesting enough to include in How to Mix Drinks .

With his crusta, Santini provided one of the earliest experiments using liqueur as a sweetener even more important was the addition of a touch of lemon juice to the mix. The 1850s and 1860s are the years when many of our drink categories—particularly the sours—were being invented. The crusta was one of the early attempts to work out the ways that spirits, citrus and sweeteners could combine to a delicious end. It stands in that middle ground between the original cocktail and the sour, a sort of “proto-sour.”

The Brandy Crusta

That dash of citrus is probably Santini’s most important and long-lasting contribution to cocktailing, but the real hallmarks of the crusta have as much to do with presentation as with ingredients.

For starters, Santini’s Crusta was served in a stemmed wineglass with a sugared rim, instead of the usual, plain bar glass. Stemmed glassware and sugar rims weren’t new, of course they were already part of the “fancy cocktail” repertoire, but not in the main stream.

The special touch was the drink’s singular, ostentatious garnish: the peeled shell of half a lemon that serves as a liner for the glass. The combination—a dash of lemon in the drink, offset by a liqueur sweetener, a lemon shell, and a sugared, fancy glass to wrap it all up—this was something new.

This was Santini’s Brandy Crusta.

With reference to modern measures, Santini’s recipe looks something like this:

  • 1 wine-glass brandy (2 ounces Cognac)
  • 1-2 dashes curaçao (¼ teaspoon Grand Marnier or Ferrand Dry Curaçao)
  • 3-4 dashes gum syrup (½ teaspoon simple syrup)
  • 1 dash (¼ teaspoon) lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Boker’s bitters (Angostura, Bittercube Bolivar)
  • lemon peel

Wet the rim of a small wineglass with a lemon wedge and coat the outer rim with superfine sugar. Line the glass with the thin-pared peel of half a lemon, peeled in a single, wide strip.

Stir ingredients with ice until well chilled, then strain into the lemon-lined serving glass.

As I noted earlier, the Brandy Crusta is essentially a glass of brandy with some flavorings in it, so definitely use a decent brandy or Cognac. I enjoy the Ferrand 1840 in the Crusta, but any good VSOP brandy should do just fine.

As for the Curaçao, Grand Marnier and Ferrand Dry Curaçao are both Cognac-based liqueurs, and blend very nicely with the brandy base.

(It’s interesting to note that the last quarter of the nineteenth century saw the introduction into the US of many new drink ingredients, and one that caught on readily was Maraschino liqueur. It wasn’t long before bartenders included a bit of Maraschino into their “improved cocktail” experiments, and by the end of the century, some were using it in place of curaçao in the Brandy Crusta, too. A crusta with Maraschino is a bit earthier than the curaçao version, with a slight bitter note the orange curaçao is rounder and sweeter. The flavor difference is noticeable, but slight. I’m becoming partial to the Maraschino version.)

The original mid-nineteenth century recipe called for Boker’s bitters. Boker’s went out of business during Prohibition, though there is a product on the market now that purports to be a recreation of the original recipe. I look forward to trying that some day, but meanwhile I make the same substitution Harry Craddock made in the Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930: Angostura. Of course, a quintessentially experimental cocktail like the crusta is fair game for bitters experiments—my favorite experiment so far is Bittercube Bolivar.

The lemon peel garnish is the hallmark of the Crusta. You want to make as wide a peel as you can, one that will be strong enough to sit up above the rim of the glass.The usual way to do this is to cut off the tip of the lemon then, starting in the middle, peel a wide, continuous strip around the fruit, progressing to the end of the lemon to completely remove half of the peel. You need to use a relatively straight-sided serving glass, not too big around, to support at least some of the peel above the sugared rim.

How’s it taste? The nose is all about that brandy, and just a hint of lemon—that peel extending above the rim of the glass is as much a treat for the nose as for the eyes. The flavor, too is driven by the brandy, with just the smallest hints of brightness from the small amount of lemon juice. The added sweetness of the sugar and liqueur and the hint of orange from the curaçao help to round the edges of the brandy. The swallow lingers first with the brandy, then with a lasting bright lemon note. As the drink ages in the glass, it takes on more of the flavors of the lemon peel and lemon oils.

So why did the Brandy Crusta disappear?

According to David Wondrich, writing in his 2007 Imbibe!, the crusta was always something of a cult cocktail, “one with few but fanatic devotés.” I’d love to know more about its early popularity, but I’ll take his word on it.

It seems to have been just popular enough that bartenders in general, notably Jerry Thomas, felt they needed to take notice of the category, and so it survived all the way to Prohibition.

It’s not hard to see how Prohibition made for a tough environment for the poor old crusta—it’s a bit finicky for the speakeasy crowd. By the time Repeal rolled around, it was more a curiosity than anything else.

In the long run, I suspect its characteristic of standing in the middle between the very popular Old-Fashioned and the very popular Sour was its undoing. It was, as they say, neither fish nor fowl that ambiguity, combined with its labor-intensive presentation, kept it out of the mainstream.

As a result, the Brandy Crusta is more of an honored ancestor than a living cocktail. It’s too bad, because it is a tasty, and flashy, variant of the Old-Fashioned, and well worth having in the repertoire. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Brandy Crusta

Stir the ingredients well with cracked ice, then strain into chilled small wineglass that has been lined with the thin-pared peel of half a lemon* and had its rim wet with lemon juice and dipped in superfine sugar. Note: Most modern recipes call for too much lemon juice and too much liqueur. Unlike modern cocktails, the point here isn't to submerge the flavor of the liquor in some greater whole, but to merely accent it and soften some of its edge.

* Keep the lemon whole, trim the tip off, and, starting at the middle, carefully spiral your way down to the trimmed end with a very sharp knife. It's easier if you keep some of the pith on, although then you will of course have to lay the peel out on the counter and shave the pith off. Excellence has never been easy.

The Wondrich Take:

Americans. Sheesh. First we invent something good. Then, rather than brush our hands together, put on our cap and bugger off to the pub -- what any sane person would do -- we take that perfectly good thing we've invented and attempt to make it better. Now, nine times out of ten we end up with -- New Coke. But sometimes, just sometimes, we cook up something worthwhile. Take the basic "Cock-Tail," the cornerstone of American mixology. Originally, around 1800, this was a simple drink: a shot of liquor (any liquor) stirred up with a lump of sugar, a squirt or two of bitters, and a generous splash of water. (That's right -- an Old-Fashioned, more or less, but without any of that orange-cherry-pineapple nonsense that some folks inflict on it.)

Then the tinkering. First off, somebody replaced most of the water with ice. (That idea couldn't have really caught on until after 1830, when the insulated icebox came into use and made ice cheap.) Good. The drink goes down just as smooth, but it ain't s' durned wet. Some people, however, don't like lumps of ice in their drinks. Hmmm. What if you just stir the ice around for a moment and then strain the hooch out into another glass? That works. (Of course, that means you'll need special equipment, but since when have Americans shied from that?)

Every solution creates a problem of its own. Now that you've minimized the contact between liquor and that dihydrogen monoxide stuff, the sugar's behaving funny. Sugar, it turns out, is not so soluble in alcohol, or in cold liquids -- and cold alcohol is mostly what's in your glass. Hmmm. How's about you dissolve the sugar beforehand make, like, a syrup? Yes.

Okay. The basic problems are solved. But now the real fun begins. What if, instead of plain old sugar syrup, you use one of them fancy European liqueurs? Kinky, but not half bad. And what if you throw in (heresy of heresies) a splash of lemon juice? Sure, that kind of nonsense -- fruit juice and all -- is supposed to be confined to the world of punch, but this is America, and to hell with rules.

All this brings us up to 1840. That's when a certain Joseph Santini was appointed to manage the bar and restaurant of New Orleans' City Exchange, a block-long building that had started life as a simple coffee house and metastasized into a fantastic combination of auction house, eatery, and drinking resort. Gumbo was invented there, and the free lunch. It's also where -- as far as we can tell -- Santini took all these new ideas, folded 'em together with a couple of his own, and came up with the Brandy Crusta, the absolute pinnacle of the nineteenth-century bartender's art.

Oh, yeah. Is a Crusta any better than a plain, Old-Fashioned Cock-Tail? Well-l-l-l -- it ain't worse, anyway.

Brandy Crusta

An ingredient commonly used in mixed drinks. Like bar syrups, it is a sugar and water mixture, but has an added ingredient of gum arabic which acts as an emulsifier.

Ingredient: Bogart's bitters

Corruption of the correct name, "Boker's", a popular bitters in the late 19th century.

Ingredient: brandy

Ingredient: Curaçao

Liqueur flavored with the dried peels of the laraha citrus fruit, grown on the island of Curaçao. Earlier versions were based on brandy or rum but now use neutral spirits.

Ingredient: lemon

Crusta is made the same as a fancy cocktail, with a little lemon juice and a small lump of ice added. First, mix the ingredients in a small tumbler, then take a fancy red wine-glass, rub a sliced lemon around the rim of the same, and dip it in pulverized white sugar, so that the sugar will adhere to the edge of the glass. Pare half a lemon the same as you would an apple (all in one piece) so that the paring will fit in the wine-glass, as shown in the cut, and strain the crusta from the Brandy Crusta tumbler into it. Then smile.

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