The Appletini is not a Martini, let’s just get that out of the way right now. What it is, however, is candy. Traditionally made with sour pucker schnapps and vodka, the Appletini, also called the Apple Martini, is one of an arsenal of schnapps cocktails that littered the 1990s. It’s not very interesting, but why schnapps, and what can we do with it?
Drinks like Sex on the Beach, Fuzzy Navel, Appletini, and others, are all party drinks, the kind you’d get in giant red plastic Solo cups and guzzle like soda because that’s what they all taste like. They’re drinks you can drink when you don’t want to know you’re drinking, and they’ll all fuck you up fast because schnapps, in Solo cup quantities, has alot of alcohol in it, at least the “schnapps” used in these drinks. Schnaps (one p) is a German word referring to any strong alcohol drink similar to eau de vie in France, aguardenta in Portugal, amaro in Italy, and any other general style of liqueur. The schnapps in the Appletini isn’t that at all. It’s American schnapps, heavily sweetened, heavily flavored neutral grain spirits bottled at between 30 and 40 proof.
Sounds like infused vodka. Well, schnapps kinda is, except it’s not infused, it’s flavored, and it’s much sweeter than any vodka. The flavor in most mass market schnapps comes from additives, some natural, others not, just like the flavors in soda pop, powdered lemonade, and sports drinks. Obviously there’s an audience, and a grunge era proliferation of flavors resulted in a corresponding array of crayon cocktails, all of which tasted either like a sweeter Screwdriver, or some flavor of Kool-Aid. They’re easy to drink, make a great party, and, if you don’t drink, you can tolerate them. That’s who, and what schnapps and Appletinis et. al. are for.
Between the 1960s and 1980s an entire generation came of age with their own bars, their own cocktails, and their own ideas of how to drink. Fern bars led to single’s bars, boozey whiskey cocktails led to fruit coolers, orange juice was in everything, and, by the time Saddam Hussein sparked America’s fury the first time, the children of the boomer generation were heading off to college and coming of age complete with memories of grown ups slamming Greyhounds in the backyard while gathered around a charcoal grill that wouldn’t stay lit, and other stuff. Enter a whole new wave of beverages, from Zima and lots of clear everything, to an almost endless variety of schnapps.
Schnapps became lifestyle, and the 90s became very public. Spring Break was an event covered around the clock by MTV, just like CNN covers war. It was booze fueled student mayhem, Girls Gone Wild, tailgate parties that went on long after the game was over, and one music festival after another. It was Downtown Julie Brown in the locker room at the Super Bowl, and Pauly Shore on the big screen. It was a bizarro world of seriously questionable behavior, and all the colors were bright, like candy, and sweet, like candy, and inviting, like candy, and are you gonna party like it’s 1999 with an Old Fashioned? No, you’re gonna party with a colorful gulp of sugar, because here we are now, entertain us. Schnapps drinks are for twenty-somethings, mostly young twenty-somethings, mostly young twenty-somethings buying or making drinks for other young twenty-somethings, because you can’t be fabulous and seen with something that tastes like floor cleaner. You see, when all you know is soda pop and sports drinks, your expectations are pretty narrow.
But you know what? All those 90s college kids who drank the schnapps grew up, and so did their tastes. As a consequence, so did the Appletini. It’s kind of a survivor, mostly because, in it’s purest form, vodka and sour pucker, it tastes like a Jolly Rancher, or Sour Patch Kid. It’s clean, it’s crisp, it’s fresh apple in the way that the color green is an apple, it’s super sweet, and it’s chemical. It tastes exactly the way translucent green is supposed to taste, and that makes it familiar, if more than a little boring. An Appletini isn’t that interesting. Delicious as it is, it’s no different than a glass of Gatorade, but it can be.
Would you like an Apple Martini that tastes like real apples, and more? First, lose the schnapps. A quality apple liqueur will have sufficient sweetness, but also a much more interesting character. Sure, it took a long time to make, and you pay for that at the register, but you’re not in college anymore, Julie Brown hosts an oldies show on satellite radio, and Pauly Shore’s gone the way of the Lilith Fair. You don’t drink cocktails from Solo cups anymore, either, but you do remember those drinks, maybe even fondly at times. Here’s your grown up Apple Martini, with apple liqueur, and a dose of science, because we still want the sour.
Spiritopia Apple Liqueur tastes like apples, almost a little like caramel apples, but sweet and rich. There’s some baked apple in there, but mostly it’s like a Honeycrisp soaked in fresh cider, and covered in brown sugar. Maybe not so much on the brown sugar, but it’s a nice, sweet, alcoholic apple. What it isn’t is tart. Let’s be honest, an Appletini with apple liqueur is totally acceptable, and, once you had one, you’ll never go back, however, we want the sour, but without citrus, the traditional sour ingredient. This is supposed to be a take on a Martini (no, we’re not choosing that battle, so sit back down) and a martini is not a sour, so we left the citrus out. You could add some lemon, but then you’d have an Vodka Sour with apple, not an Apple Martini, so we reach for some citric acid, just like one imagines the sour pucker schnapps makers do. A little citric acid, mixed with water in equal parts, brings the pucker back, and keeps the cocktail nice and transparent in the glass. No, it’s not green anymore, it’s red because apples are red, too, but then you don’t wear the same clothes you used to either. The Appletini might be an artifact of youthful indiscretion, or a happy hour staple, or a nostalgic pleasure, or a night out with friends, or, maybe, like us, you just really like an Apple Martini and want it to be a bit more than it was or is. If so, then rest assured. Some things from the 90s are worth keeping.
Citric acid solution
Dissolve the citric acid in water, and pour into a dasher bottle.
Stir with ice and serve up. Garnish with an apple slice.
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