At the turn of the millennium, colorful cocktails were all the rage. Think: Jolly Rancher red or Cosmopolitan pink. But the most cloying of the Sex and the City-era bunch was the neon-green, mouth-puckering, sour-apple-flavored Apple-tini.
Eventually the apple-flavored sugar rush wore off, and the Apple-tini and its apple-themed kin fell from favor for a decade and a half, remaining the déclassé nectar of choice for sorority girls celebrating the end of rush week, soccer moms on a rare night out, and your aunt and uncle visiting from Idaho.
"We definitely shunned that fresh-apple flavor for quite a bit, because of the Apple-tini connotations," says Mike Ryan, head bartender at Sable Kitchen and Bar in Chicago.
In other words, bartenders took an axe to the apple tree and chopped it down without looking back. But, like a seed that's taken root and sprouted in a dead stump, the apple-spirits trend is once again bearing fruit—only now the drinks aren't leaving a sickly-sweet aftertaste.
Sure, there are still those who think apple-flavored drinks are for young and inexperienced boozers. Brands like Red Stag's Hardcore Cider and Paddy Irish Whiskey Devil's Apple trade on the popularity of hard cider, while other companies hawk apple-pie-flavored "moonshine" aimed squarely at the post-college demographic.
But a few newish apple-flavored products are respected enough to have made it back onto reputable cocktail-bar shelves, including Berentzen's Apple Liqueur and Leopold Brothers' New York Sour Apple Liqueur.
Other brands are more subtle about their, um, core flavors. Rather than flavoring a base spirit with apple, they're distilling fermented apples into vodka (BelleWood Vodka, Tree Vodka, Indigenous Fresh Pressed Apple Vodka, Soft Tail Vodka) and gin (Half Moon Orchard, CapRock, Williams Chase Elegant Gin). These tend to have only hints of apple flavor.
One of the many reasons that apple cocktails fell out of fashion is that classic cocktails came back in vogue in a big way. But there is really only one classic apple drink that bartenders have made popular again, the Jack Rose, which contains applejack (aged apple brandy), grenadine, and lemon juice.
Other classic apple cocktails haven't enjoyed a renaissance yet partly because there had long been only one affordable applejack on the market, Laird's Bonded. Finally, a few other apple spirits have entered the market: Aged apple brandies popular with bartenders today include Rhine Hall Oaked Apple Brandy, Cornelius Applejack, Arkansas Black Straight Applejack, Black Dirt Apple Jack, Tom's Foolery Applejack, Starlight Distillery Applejack Brandy, Clear Creek Eau de Vie de Pomme, and St. George Barrel-Aged Apple Brandy, which will be released this fall.
Perhaps most important, bartenders like Ryan seem less fearful of going back to the apple barrel for cocktails these days, and they're finding new and interesting ways to use apple flavors in drinks. A few examples: Matthew McKinley Campbell of Comal in Berkeley, Calif., serves a drink with tequila, bitter Becherovka liqueur, and spiced-apple syrup. Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli of Boston's Island Creek Oyster Bar went in a different direction with tequila, Granny Smith apple juice, cardamom-and-fennel syrup, and a touch of apple-cider vinegar. Craig Mrusek of Tender Bar & Kitchen in Pittsburgh makes a Manhattan variation with Berentzen apple liqueur, served over a large ice cube. And William Bastian of Chalk Point Kitchen in Manhattan includes apple-flavored vodka along with cucumber and celery in his version of a kale martini.
Amidst this apple-themed resurgence, the Apple-tini remains, thankfully, merely a memory.
"We're in a pretty touristy area, so we still get a request for an apple martini maybe once a week," Ryan says. "When we do get that, we try to turn them on to a Jack Rose, or a drink we do with un-aged apple brandy, vodka, honey, and lemon. People love it but then they're like, 'Why isn't it green?'"
—Camper English is the cocktail columnist for Details.com and publisher of Alcademics.com.
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