Imagine someone telling you that sunsets are passé. Out of fashion. No one watches sunsets anymore. And also out of fashion, since you asked, are hot showers, cheese and asking “who’s a good boy?” to an excitable puppy.
What would you say to that person? How dismissive of their idiotic opinion are you preparing yourself to be? There are, plainly, some things that are susceptible to the whims of taste and fashion, and some that aren’t. And we submit that despite all evidence to the contrary, the Green Apple Sour—better known by its stage name, the Appletini—is an example of the latter.
The Appletini was born on July 4, 1997, at Lola’s in West Hollywood. It was, as with so many cocktail origin stories, not a flash of divine inspiration as much as it was a bartender looking at the back bar, seeing a bottle they didn’t know well and thinking to themselves, “Hmmmm.” The bottle in this case was the DeKuyper’s Pucker Sour Apple Schnapps, brand new at the time, the “Pucker” line unique among the then-ubiquitous neon spectrum of liqueurs in that it was sour as well as sweet. The bartender in question, Adam Karston, poured equal amounts of Apple Pucker and vodka and topped it with a splash of sweet & sour, making essentially a boozy Sour Patch Kid, no less appealing for being Ecto-Cooler green (this was the ’90s, after all).
It was explosively popular. The oft-repeated story is that “the cocktail was so successful that it had to be taken off the menu,” which admittedly doesn’t make much sense, but what everyone can agree upon was that it was a hit. Within six months, practically every bar in LA had an Appletini on their menu.
“The long, sticky summer of the chocolate Martini is at last behind us,” wrote the New York Times in October 2000, “its replacement is a crisp new cocktail made from vodka and some variety of apple spirit.” The Appletini was a transitional drink and not just of summer to fall. It’s tempting to lump it in with the Chocotini and the Sex on the Beach and all the other boring and chemical and oversweet drinks that preceded it, but there’s one important difference: The Appletini was sweet, yes, but it was also sour. It was the first mainstream cocktail in a generation to have a near-sufficient amount of acidity, one crucial step toward the sweet-sour balance of things like Margaritas and Daiquiris and Whiskey Sours we now not just enjoy, but expect.
What’s interesting about the Times article is that already, in the year 2000, New York bartenders were using fresh ingredients instead of the neon-green liqueur. Diane Gordon was mixing vodka, cinnamon, apple juice and Calvados, the French apple spirit. Ian Schrager was doing Zubrowka, the Polish herbal vodka, with honey and fresh apple juice. Julie Reiner, who “refuses to use any liqueur at all on the grounds that it makes the drink taste like a Jolly Rancher,” was infusing vodka with fresh apples and topping it with sparkling apple cider. These bartenders saw the inherent appeal of the Appletini—that Granny Smith apples are delicious and fit seamlessly into the sour cocktail template.
It was true then and it’s true now. While the relative acceptability of incandescent green liqueurs has changed, what hasn’t changed one bit is the fact that vodka, apple and sweet-sour flavors, when shaken together, are as simple and profoundly delicious as anything you can find and is no less in or out of fashion than autumn itself.
- 1.5 oz. vodka
- 0.75 oz. fresh granny smith apple juice
- 0.75 oz. lemon juice
- 0.75 oz. simple syrup
Add all ingredients with ice into a cocktail shaker and shake hard for eight to 10 seconds. Strain off the ice into a Martini glass and garnish with a couple apple slices, or just for fun, a cherry.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Vodka: The craft cocktail bartender in me would love to tell you that pisco or mezcal or something makes the best Appletini you’ve ever had, but it’s not true. I’ve tried this recipe with all kinds of spirits and I still like it best when the spirit gets out of the way and lets the apple juice sing. Which is to say: Vodka. As for bottlings, you can stay on message with one distilled from apples like Upstate Vodka, if you like, but vodka is mostly here to provide the canvas on which to paint.
The other thing to note here is that there’s a traditional Polish vodka called Zubrowka that’s infused with the herb bison grass, which offers a lemongrass-like warm herbal sweetness. It is taken traditionally with apple juice because those flavors go fantastically together—the brand of Zubrowka available here is Zu, and if you are partial to Appletinis, it’s worth picking up a bottle for them.
Fresh Apple Juice: You certainly could just use bottled apple juice, but I don’t recommend it. It won’t be green, for starters, and bottled juice tends to not be Granny Smith, which means it’s sweeter, without that leading tart edge.
This is the annoying part of my advice: You have to juice apples for this. Or, rather, if you want it to be and stay green, you have to juice apples for this. The good news is that I have a trick: Apple juice oxidizes and turns brown within minutes, but if you juice them into a container with a small amount of ascorbic acid—pure vitamin C, a cheap and common ingredient in canning—to prevent oxidation. You don’t need much, just like 1-2tsp per quart of juice and make sure to stir. With this trick, you can make a big batch of apple juice, refrigerate it and it’ll stay vivid green forever.
Simple Syrup: This will allow the apples to speak as loudly as possible. Very talented bartenders sometimes advise honey syrup, which obviously works and offers a warm sweet finish to mingle with the apple’s malic bite and you can do that if you like.
If you really want to blow the doors off, my absolute favorite sweetness to use here is lemongrass syrup, which adds the same type of herbal sweetness Zubrowka does, but even more so.
To make it, mix 1 cup each of sugar and water in a small pot and stir to combine. Heat to about 160-180F—you want to think of the herbs like tea and not scald them—and then remove from heat. Roughly chop 2 stalks of lemongrass and once your simple syrup is hot, you can either add the lemongrass to the simple syrup, cover and let come to room temperature, or if you want a louder flavor, add the hot syrup and the lemongrass to a high-powered blender and blend on high for 10 seconds, then cover and let cool. Strain out the solids and refrigerate.