The Appletini Is 21 Years Old. Is It Time to Rethink the Famous Cocktail?

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(image: Tim Nusog)

It’s probably been awhile since you’ve seen an Appletini on the menu at your favorite bar, but there was a time when the neon-phenom dominated cocktail culture. Both sweet and sour with a subtle kick and the complexion of liquid kryptonite, the Apple Martini was a smash hit from the moment it burst onto the scene. That was 21 years ago.

It all started one Fourth of July at a West Hollywood restaurant called Lola’s when owner Loren “Lola” Dunsworth was approached by a representative from then-fledgling vodka brand Ketel One with the idea of making a signature Martini.

Dunsworth noticed a lonely bottle of apple schnapps on the back bar and asked bartender Adam Karston to see if he could whip something up using the two. He combined equal parts DeKuyper Pucker sour apple schnapps imitation liqueur and Ketel One vodka and added a splash of house-made sweet-and-sour mix, and just like that a legend was born.

The cocktail was so successful that it had to be taken off the menu. “They were easy to drink because you didn’t really taste the alcohol,” says Dunsworth. “People were abusing them. I thought, Let’s take it off for a while. But there was such an uproar that we quickly ended up putting it back.”

Within six months, word of the cocktail spread across the country, and soon every bar and restaurant worth its Martini menu was flaunting its own version of the emerald goddess. But none of them stood up to the original Appletini.

One difference, says Dunsworth, is that Lola’s garnished its drink with Granny Smith apple slices, which they marinated in lemon water and ice to keep fresh. “People would say to me, ‘Oh, my God, it just tastes so much better here.’”

The Appletini marched proudly into the late-’90s and early aughts as a symbol of innocence and pre-9/11 America. Part punchline, part guilty pleasure, it was always the happy person’s drink more than the cool kid’s go-to. It’s what Zach Braff’s character ordered in Scrubs and the toast of choice in the Mark Zuckerberg–Sean Parker meeting in The Social Network.

The Appletini was, by all definitions, a globally recognized modern classic.

“Don’t get me wrong, the craft cocktail movement is great,” says Dunsworth. “But many of the drinks are kind of fly-by-night. Very few of them stick because they’re too complicated and have too many ingredients. The true classics, like the Manhattan, are simple and easy to make. They have staying power.”

In 2013, after 17 years of happy hours and sticky bar tops, Lola’s closed its doors for the last time. But its signature cocktail lives on, albeit in a more contemporary form. Bartenders have been remaking the cocktail using everything from fresh Granny Smith apple juice to craft-quality apple liqueurs to bison-grass-infused vodka.

In honor of the Appletini’s 21st birthday, we came up with our own updated version of the classic that substitutes calvados and fresh Granny Smith apple juice for apple schnapps. A tiny bit of lemon juice and simple syrup highlights the green flavor profile that helped popularize the drink.

Get the recipe here.

Series & Type: Cocktails History
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