Cocktail Overhaul: The Appletini

JL Studios

In Cocktail Overhaul, Jeff Lucas re-imagines drinks from what many consider the dark days of cocktails.

JL Studios

The Appletini was pretty much synonymous with everything that was wrong about drinking in the eighties and nineties: those neon colored, artificially flavored, cavity-inducing sweet cocktails featured nothing a bartender from earlier generations would recognize as belonging in a cocktail.

Today it's time to climb on my soapbox and repeat what has been uttered a million times before: the Appletini is not a Martini. It has no gin, and no vermouth, and the only thing it has in common with a martini is the glassware. Calling this vodka and apple-candy schnapps drink a martini is like calling a Pinto a BMW just because they happen to share the same highway.

But it's time for the Appletini's makeover, and I promise I can redeem this sad excuse for a drink.

Thinking of martinis—the real ones—I turned to James Bond for inspiration. Remember the Vesper? As Bond so eloquently put it, the Vesper is just "three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

For our reimagined appletini, I started with the Vesper and came across a distinctive ingredient to act as the drink's core: Zu Bison Grass Vodka. This vodka is distilled from rye and has a rich herbal aroma with a citrusy and grassy taste. In Poland, Żubrówka is often mixed with apple juice—its affinity for apple flavors made it the perfect base for our Appletini.


In order to complement the citrus characteristics of the bison grass vodka, I went with a citrus forward gin—I like Bluecoat gin from Philadelphia, though you can experiment with other bottlings. For the infusion, I picked a tart and slightly tropical-tasting Pinata apple, but any firm red apple with a tart and juicy flavor will do.

To round out this Vesper-inspired Appletini, I stuck with Lillet Blanc. It's sweet, yes, and not as bitter as some other options, but it works especially well in this context. In the end you are left with a herbal and citrus-scented cocktail with apple notes in the background, named Honey Ryder for another iconic Bond girl.