When All Else Fails, Do It Yourself

Fans of classic cocktails often run into the same problem: Many distinctive ingredients called for in vintage recipes have disappeared from the local liquor store, and sometimes from the face of the earth. One such ingredient is the French aperitif Amer Picon.

OK, let me qualify that--Amer Picon is still being manufactured in France, and is available and popular (especially when mixed with beer) in some parts of Europe. But this mildly bitter spirit with a flavor defined by orange peel and gentian has suffered a double indignity: Long a staple of every high-quality establishment's back bar, and an ingredient in classic drinks such as the Liberal, the Brooklyn (you knew the Manhattan had to have a counterpart), and the eponymous Picon Punch, Amer Picon disappeared from the U.S. market in the 1980s (though some lucky scavengers still find dusty bottles in old liquor stores). Prior to that, however, the manufacturer made a "New Coke" mistake, reformulating the long-beloved product, dramatically reducing its proof and eviscerating its once-vibrant flavor. For bars in the United States, Amer Picon went out with a whimper.

Now, it's back. OK, I need to qualify that, too--Amer Picon hasn't reverted to the old formula, and the newer, weak-kneed version still isn't distributed in the U.S. (although suitcase importers have made bottles available to certain prominent bars in Boston, San Francisco, New York, and other cities). But despairing of a change of heart on the part of the House of Picon, Seattle bartender Jamie Boudreau took matters into his own hands and created an Amer replica. The recipe for Boudreau's concoction ran in an article I wrote for the July issue of Imbibe magazine; now, Jamie has posted his recipe online, so cocktail aficionados can once again start mixing up their Brooklyns.

How does it taste? I've tried the replica side-by-side with the current version of Amer Picon, and found the replica nearly identical in flavor, though richer and more robust than the watery modern spirit. In July, at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, I had the chance to taste the replica side-by-side with vintage Amer Picon, thanks to the generosity of New York liquor impresario LeNell Smothers, and found the match nearly spot-on (Jamie's online recipe seeks to erase that "nearly" modifier). And as compared with Torani Amer, the substitute many cocktail fans have turned to, the replica is a sharp improvement.

This has been a year for many once-lost spirits to return (including absinthe and crème de violette). Thanks to Jamie, one more vintage ingredient can be crossed off the list.

About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.

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