This is Highly Recommend, a column dedicated to what people in the food industry are obsessed with eating, drinking, and buying right now.
I enjoy a glug of full-bodied red as much as the next person. But one night while sitting at the bar at Gus’s Chop House, a neighborhood spot in Carroll Gardens that serves up steaks, chops, and dangerously good sides, I wanted something without the boozy kick. Sugary Shirley Temple? Too sweet. Club soda with a splash of lime? Too austere. But on the nonalcoholic list, just below the Diet Coke, I spotted something called a “Phony Negroni” from Brooklyn-based distillery St. Agrestis. Perhaps it was the rhyming name that beckoned me to try it, but I’m so glad I did.
The bartender served it over ice with an orange twist, giving it the same special treatment that a non-phony negroni would receive, and after my first sip of the ruby red cocktail, I can’t say that I missed the booze. The nuanced flavors of juniper and citrus were even more alive when not overpowered by alcohol. It possessed the same beloved bittersweetness of a negroni but with a touch of added carbonation. Most importantly, I had two without any of the next-day side effects that would have come from a few rounds of real-deal negronis on a weeknight.
St. Agrestis is known to have a negroni product for just about every drinker—even for the person who wants a boxed negroni fountain in their fridge. But prior to February 2022, they didn’t sell one for those not consuming alcohol. “There wasn’t really a nonalcoholic negroni on the market,” says cofounder Louie Catizone, “and we felt like there should be a negroni for every person, whether they’re drinking or not.”
Fortunately, they didn’t exactly have to start from scratch since they produce the spirits that go into their cocktails. “Making a Phony Negroni is to some degree like making tea,” Catizone says. To make its regular bottled negronis, the company starts with raw botanicals such as herbs and citrus steeped in alcohol. For the phony negroni, they steep the same botanicals in water.
A lot of thought goes into St. Agrestis’s Phony Negroni, and you can taste it. They’ve managed to translate the essence of a negroni, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re missing all of its big, bold, and bitter glory. I’m still one to indulge in a great cocktail when I’m out, but the Phony Negroni has become my new go-to drink at home. My weekend plans? A cooking date with myself, a Phony Negroni, and no hangover on Sunday.