How to Make the Vodka and Apple Cocktail – Robb Report

Imagine someone telling you that sunsets are over. Old-fashioned. No one watches the sunsets anymore. And also outdated, since you asked, hot showers, cheese and the question “who’s a good boy?” to an excitable puppy.

What would you say to this person? How much do you prepare to be dismissive of their idiotic opinion? There are obviously things that are susceptible to the vagaries of taste and fashion, and others that are not. And we argue that despite all the 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 wasn’t, like so many cocktail origin stories, not a flash of divine inspiration, but rather a bartender looking at the back bar, seeing a bottle they weren’t familiar with and thinking “Hmmmm “. The bottle in this case was DeKuyper’s Pucker Sour Apple schnapps, all-new at the time, the “Pucker” line unique among the then-ubiquitous spectrum of neon liqueurs in that it was both sour and sweet. The bartender in question, Adam Karston, poured equal amounts of Apple Pucker and vodka and topped it with a splash of sweet and sour, essentially making an alcoholic Sour Patch Kid no less appealing for being green Ecto -Cooler (it was the 90s, after all).

It was extremely popular. The oft-repeated story is that “the cocktail was so successful it had to be taken off the menu”, which admittedly doesn’t make much sense, but everyone agrees that it was a success. Within six months, virtually every bar in Los Angeles had an Appletini on their menu.

“The long sticky summer of Chocolate Martini is finally behind us,” wrote the New York Times in October 2000, “its replacement is a crisp new cocktail made with vodka and a variety of apple liquor”. The Appletini was a transition drink and not just from summer to fall. It’s tempting to lump it with the Chocotini and the Sex on the Beach and all the other boring, chemical, overly sweet drinks that came before 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 nearly enough acidity, a crucial step towards the sweet-and-sour balance of things like margaritas and daiquiris and the whiskey sour we now enjoy, but wait for. .

What is interesting in the Time article is that already, in the year 2000, bartenders in New York were using fresh ingredients instead of neon green liquor. Diane Gordon mixed vodka, cinnamon, apple juice and Calvados, the French apple brandy. Ian Schrager made Zubrowka, the Polish herbal vodka, with honey and fresh apple juice. Julie Reiner, who “refuses to use any liquor on the grounds that it makes the drink taste like a Jolly Rancher”, infused vodka with fresh apples and topped it with sparkling apple cider. These bartenders saw the inherent appeal of the Appletini – that Granny Smith apples are delicious and fit perfectly into the tart cocktail template.

It was true then and it is true now. While the relative acceptability of glowing green liquors has changed, what hasn’t changed at all is the fact that vodka, apple, and sour flavors, when shaken together, are also simple and deeply delicious than anything you can find and are no less in or out of fashion than fall itself.


  • 1.5oz. Vodka
  • 0.75oz. fresh granny smith apple juice
  • 0.75oz. lemon juice
  • 0.75oz. simple syrup

Add all ingredients with ice to a shaker and shake vigorously for 8-10 seconds. Strain the ice into a Martini glass and garnish with a few slices of apple or, just for fun, a cherry.


Photo: Courtesy of Ketel One

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 always like it best when the spirit steps aside and lets the apple juice sing. That is to say: Vodka. As for bottlings, you can stay on message with a distilled from apples like Upstate Vodka, if you like, but the vodka is mostly there to provide the canvas to paint on.

The other thing to note here is that there is a traditional Polish vodka called Zubrowka which is infused with buffalo grass, which provides a warm lemongrass based sweetness. It’s traditionally taken with apple juice because those flavors go wonderfully together – Zubrowka’s brand available here is Zu, and if you like Appletinis, it’s worth grabbing a bottle for them.

Fresh apple juice: You can definitely use bottled apple juice, but I don’t recommend it. It won’t be green, to begin with, and the bottled juice tends not to be Granny Smith, meaning it’s sweeter, without that edgy edge.

This is the boring part of my advice: you have to squeeze apples for this. Or rather, if you want it to be and stay green, you have to squeeze apples for it. The good news is that I have a trick: apple juice oxidizes and turns brown in minutes, but if you squeeze it into a container with a small amount of ascorbic acid (pure vitamin C, a cheap ingredient and common in canned food) to prevent oxidation. You don’t need much, just like 1-2 teaspoons per liter of juice and be sure to stir. With this trick, you can make a big batch of apple juice, refrigerate it, and it will stay bright green forever.

Simple syrup: This will allow the apples to talk as loud as possible. Very talented bartenders sometimes advise the honey syrup, which obviously works and provides a warm, sweet finish to mingle with the malic bite of the apple and you can do that if you want.

If you really want to blow the doors off, my favorite sweetness to use here is lemongrass syrup, which adds the same kind of plant-based sweetness as Zubrowka, but even more.

To make this, combine 1 cup sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Heat to around 160-180F – you want to think of herbs as tea and not scald them – then remove from heat. Roughly chop 2 stalks 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 stronger flavor add the hot syrup and lemongrass to a high power blender and blend on high for 10 seconds, then cover and let cool. Filter the solids and refrigerate.