Before Sex and the City boosted the Cosmopolitan’s popularity into the stratosphere, the Appletini was the bar world’s brassiest celebrity. The Day-Glo drink graced menus at New York’s bygone C3—a French bistro where, in 2000, a then-little-known bar manager named Julie Reiner added it to the cocktail menu—and at Applebee’s restaurants from Times Square to Tucson. It even enjoyed a minor role in the 2010 film The Social Network, becoming the unofficial drink of Facebook along the way.
The antifreeze-colored cocktail made from vodka, Sour Apple Pucker, lemon juice and Cointreau, typically garnished with a slice of Granny Smith apple and a maraschino cherry, was invented at Lola’s, an iconic West Hollywood bar, in the late ’90s. It was an era unafraid of high-fructose corn syrup and candy-colored drinks. The Appletini’s popularity endured into the early aughts; a New York Times article even declared in 2000 (admittedly, a bit late to the party), “The apple martini is officially in season.”
Two decades later, the Appletini is staging a comeback. At Existing Conditions in Greenwich Village, bartender Garret Richard’s reinterpretation, MacIntosh Plus, puts a thoroughly contemporary spin on the retro formula. The creation of the drink, named after the Vaporwave artist of the same name, was largely serendipitous, sparked by Existing Conditions’ co-owner Dave Arnold’s love of hyperregionalized ingredients—in this case, shagbark.
“We didn’t set out to create a riff on an Appletini,” says Richard. “Dave was working on a new ingredient, shagbark, a type of hickory that he foraged on his property in Connecticut. Hickory tends to impart sweet and comforting aromas to food, and he wanted to see if this iconic wood could be used in a cocktail,” explains Richard. “The syrup he made from the bark had an umami-like richness, followed by a smoky sweetness—it imparts a meaty flavor to the drink.”
For the base spirit, Richard intended to use calvados, an obvious choice for the apple-forward drink, but he experimented with a number of other spirits, too, including the anise-flavored arak. Ultimately, he landed on Drouin Calvados La Blanche, an unaged apple eau-de-vie. “Because it’s unaged, it allows the hickory syrup to ‘artificially’ age the spirit,” explains Richard. “The result is an apple brandy that tastes like it’s been matured in hickory barrels, which isn’t something that’s actually done.”
Clarified lime juice adds a bright, tangy note in place of the artificial Sour Apple Pucker of the original. “Because apples and limes both contain malic acid, they share a similar ‘sour bite,’ says Richard. “They’re not just compatible; they often bring out the best in one another.” The addition of saline, meanwhile, “helps the guest perceive the distinct layers of a cocktail and allows bartenders to not have to oversweeten a drink to get its flavors across.”
But Richard still felt something was missing. He upped the clarified lime and syrup amounts slightly and added an equal amount of Carpano Bianco vermouth to round out the drink. Arnold then added a small measure of green food coloring as a playful nod to the original Appletini.
The cocktail is stirred for a silky, Martini-like texture, but the method retains the “citrus pop of a sour apple,” says Richard. “At Existing, we have a large variety of hybrid cocktails that are stirred but contain citrus. The clarified citrus is relegated to the role that a fortified wine would normally have in a stirred drink, providing acidity and structure.”
The MacIntosh Plus is served in a coupe chilled with liquid hydrogen and presented without a garnish, which allows the color to shine. “It raises eyebrows… Customers tend to think it’s more serious than it is, and often lose faith when they’re served a drink that’s a neon-green color,” says Richard. “Their excitement returns after the first sip.”
Richard acknowledges that the bar tends to undersell how much work goes into their drinks, but enjoys the challenge of making their particular vision come to life. “Whenever we’re presented with a new ingredient like shagbark hickory, our goal is to find a way for it to shine.” Mission accomplished.
Building Existing Conditions' Appletini