Extending Dry January? Here’s the skinny on 2 non-alcoholic bottled cocktails
It’s been almost a decade now since a London-based charity organization created Dry January, and the initiative clearly isn’t going anywhere. If you’ve committed to the cause and are still going strong, I applaud you. Whether you’ve dropped alcohol cold turkey or have simply scaled back on your imbibing, I’m sure you’ve been hankering for a cocktail every now and then — you might even be pining for one right now.
But if you’re an Old Fashioned fan or a Negroni connoisseur, you can find bottled, non-alcoholic versions on store shelves — at least for a limited time when it comes to the Old Fashioned stand-in. And if you’re like me, you’re probably curious. In fact, I know what you’re probably thinking: A non-alcoholic cocktail sounds great, but what are the odds it tastes anything like the real thing? I found myself asking that same question, which is why I sampled these latest releases to find out.
Back in the late ’90s, Pepsi Cola rolled out a new slogan: “Same great taste!” It didn’t stick around long, which is just as well, since the slogan is better paired with St. Agrestis’ Non-Alcoholic Phony Negroni. As a Negroni enthusiast, I cracked open one of these 200ml bottles with mixed emotions. The optimist in me badly wanted this boozeless alternative to be good. The realist braced for something underwhelming. I clung to that old adage about hoping for the best but expecting the worst, and fortunately, I got all of the former and none of the latter.
Simply put, there’s nothing phony about this non-alcoholic cocktail’s aroma — it smells just like its boozy sibling. As for its flavor? Well, that’s a home run, too. From the bottled cocktail’s mouthfeel to its bitter, sweet and citrus notes, the hints of juniper, even the roundness that a real Negroni gets from the sweet vermouth — it’s all there in stunning fashion.
“We took all of the botanicals that went into a Negroni and instead of extracting them in alcohol, we relied on a lot of tea-making techniques,” says Louis Catizone, co-owner of the Brooklyn-based distillery. “We took the botanicals that we believed are the most important and some of the botanicals in the supporting cast and we figured out ways to extract them by themselves, without alcohol, which is like steeping tea.”
The St. Agrestis team didn’t curtail the sugar, since in Catizone’s opinion, “you can’t have a Negroni without alcohol and without sugar.” They also injected each bottle with a small amount of carbon-dioxide, which forces the drinker to take smaller sips, just as they would if they were enjoying a traditional Negroni. “The carbonation was intended to supply Negroni-like bite,” Catizone explains.
It works. Exceptionally well.
On the other end of the spectrum, in late December WhistlePig Whiskey unveiled a limited-edition Dry Orange Fashioned — a pre-batched, non-alcoholic cocktail crafted in collaboration with Sunkist Citrus that was produced specifically for whiskey drinkers who took the Dry January pledge. Comprised of Rye non-whiskey, barrel-aged maple syrup, and Sunkist Navel oranges, the bottled, non-alcoholic Old Fashioned had me crossing my fingers that its flavor would live up to its alluring description.
Sadly, this pre-batched mocktail of sorts fell short of my expectations. An Old Fashioned — and other stirred whiskey cocktails — succeed or fail largely due to the quality and flavor of the whiskey that’s used to make them. With the Dry Orange Fashioned, it lacked some flavor. Although it offered faint citrus and cinnamon notes on the nose, it tasted like a watered-down cocktail. Hoping to breathe new life into this attempt at a non-alcoholic Old Fashioned, I added a couple of dashes of whiskey barrel-aged bitters. They helped to give the liquid a more amber-like hue and provided a bit more depth of flavor overall.
Along with its Dry Orange Fashioned, WhistlePig also unveiled a “Wet” Orange Fashioned, which incorporated real rye whiskey and clocks in at 35% ABV. Although better than its Dry cousin, this pre-batched Old Fashioned also left me wanting more. While it introduces a rye spiciness, it lacks depth of flavor. Whereas a homemade Old Fashioned made with WhistlePig’s Piggyback Rye, barrel-aged maple syrup, and a splash of Cointreau (to mimic the Sunkist citrus component) was rich in flavor and velvety smooth, WhistlePig’s Orange Fashioned was lighter in both body and flavor, tasting more like dressed-up whiskey with subtle citrus notes.