Nikolai Vavilov and family
Photo of Nikolay Ivanovich Vavilov (1887-1943), Sergey Ivanovich Vavilov (1891-1951) and their mother Aleksandra Mikhailovna. (Wikimedia Commons)

by Amy Stewart

Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov risked everything to preserve the wild ancestors of the apple tree.

In the early twentieth century, he traveled the world to identify the geographic origins of such important crops as apples, wheat, corn, and other grains, collecting seed from hundreds of thousands of plants to establish a seed bank and advance the science of genetics.

His goal was to improve crop yields for Russian farmers, but Joseph Stalin considered him an enemy of the state. Stalin had some funny ideas about science; he believed that a person’s behavior could change their genetic make-up, so that habits learned in one lifetime could be passed on through their DNA. Scientists who disagreed went to jail for it.

Vavilov was arrested for his beliefs in 1940. He spent his last days delivering lectures on genetics to the other prisoners, many of whom surely wished Stalin would have arrested some locksmiths or dynamite experts instead of botanists.

This version of an Old-Fashioned is mixed with equal parts applejack and bourbon, combining apples, corn, and grains in Vavilov's honor.

old fashioned drink
Photo by Pylyp Sukhenko on Unsplash
  • 1 sugar cube
  •  2 dashes Angostura bitters
  •  ¾ ounce applejack
  •  ¾ ounce bourbon
  •  2 slices sharp apple, such as Granny Smith or Fuji

Place the sugar cube in the bottom of an Old-fashioned glass. Splash the bitters and a few drops of water on the cube, and muddle. Add ice, the applejack, and the bourbon and stir well. Use a citrus squeezer to squeeze the juice of 1 apple slice on top. Add the second slice to the glass as garnish.

Note: Excerpt with Amy Stewart’s permission from her book: The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks