From our collective obsession with the Negroni to the refreshing spritz, summertime is the season of the bitter. While you’re likely familiar with names like Fernet-Branca, Aperol and Campari, you may be less aware of St Agrestis. Based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, St Agrestis produces exquisitely made small-batch amaro and has done for years. The flagship New York Amaro bottles are eye-catching—reminiscent of vintage apothecary bottles. And, after gaining national attention, founder Louis Catizone wanted to expand St Agrestis beyond the Amaro brand and introduce a ready-to-drink and locally-made cocktail.
“It all started with the development of the red bitter aperitivo: the Inferno Bitter,” Catizone shares. “I was also toying with making vermouth. Plus, my buddy makes Greenhook Gin. In making two of the ingredients and having access to Greenhook Gin, I started thinking more and more about making a Negroni that came prepared in a bottle.”
Catizone notes that he was hesitant about the ready-to-drink negroni as Campari had launched their own iteration, a liter negroni, years ago that “seemingly flopped.” He believed in the product, especially in a smaller format, but knew that he’d need something to attract the average buyer.
“Packaging is extremely important for someone competing with legacy brands like Aperol and Campari,” Catizone says. “Those brands are synonymous with their drinks. And to catch the attention of the consumer, the packaging needs to be pretty distinctive and unique.”
After ruling out aluminum cans and struggling to find a custom glass bottle that matched his vision, Catizone discovered his ideal vessel in the world of sake. “I was standing in a wine shop in Brooklyn waiting for an appointment and a small, intricate bottle of sake caught my eye,” he tells CH. “I started looking into sake bottle manufacturers because if they can produce these beautiful glass bottles, they can definitely produce a cone-shaped bottle for me.”
Catizone mocked up a conical bottle as a nod to vintage Italian sodas he grew up drinking—like Sanbitter or Chinotto. Glass manufacturers in Japan were able to bring Catizone’s designs to life and produced the nostalgic cone bottles that Catizone used in last year’s Negroni—and this year’s Inferno Bitter and Spritz. “An Italian-inspired liquor made in New York, with a label from California, botanicals from all over the world, a cap from Italy, and a glass bottle made in Japan,” Catizone explains. “The whole world’s involved.”
The design itself is not particularly complex, but its playful energy leaps off liquor store shelves. Catizone plans to release the bitter used in the spritz, Paradiso Bitter, in its own bottle. “The visual of the actual liquid inside is so important to the things I produce,” Catizone explains. “People seeing the vibrant, red negroni with a cool label on it is paramount. And the same thing with the spritz; the beautiful color of the spritz is synonymous with the drink.”
The Spritz is a sharply refreshing drink best enjoyed properly chilled and with a slice of fresh orange. Its label is sunny and the smooth clear glass presents the portable effervescence in all its glory. The Inferno Bitter is mature and suave in its hefty 750ml bottle and feels like it was plucked straight from a late-’70s Hollywood party. Catizone captures a time and place in his packaging that still feels appropriate for the contemporary drinker.
Amaro and Italian bitters are old-world treasures, with vintage designs that import charm and history. Catizone cut out a space for himself in the liqueur tradition with progressive design—bottles that recall a sepia tone history, but cement themselves firmly in the contemporary era. As Catizone notes, “It needs to be a little loud.”
Images by John Paradiso