Tasting Amer Picon: 1940’s Version vs. Today’s

amer picon bitters taste testRegular readers of Professor Cocktail know that I’m an admirer of Amer Picon, the bittersweet, orange-flavored French liqueur that I grew up drinking with my Basque friends. It hasn’t been imported into the United States since the 1980s, much to the dismay of many cocktail fans. It is, however, still available sporadically in Europe, so I bit the bullet and paid to acquire a bottle.

Due to the generosity of my friend Eric Witz, a collector and expert in the field of vintage spirits, I have a sample of Amer Picon from the 1940s. That was back when Amer Picon was still the “good stuff,” with its original formula and proof of 78. The current version is only 42 proof, practically anemic by comparison.

In the interests of science, I decided to compare the two versions against each other to see how much things had really changed. It should be noted that the 1940s version was at least partially oxidized, and there’s no telling how much effect that had on its flavor. We can hope not much, but there’s really no way to tell.

Amer Picon, circa 1940s, 39% ABV (unavailable)

The nose is warm caramel, slightly sweet and inviting. On the palate, the caramel takes on a burnt edge, dry and with a flavor that could be licorice, along with bitter oranges. There’s some heat to it and a rough character. The bitterness reminds me of quinine, which was in Gaétan Picon’s original recipe. I suspect that some of the orange flavor has faded over time. But that’s just a guess. This is an interesting liqueur, but I’m not sure I’d say it’s a pleasant one to drink.

Amer Picon, current, 21% ABV ($18)

This is more what I had in mind. The aroma is dominated by sweet oranges, fresh and fruity. Sweet oranges make up the initial hit of flavor, before changing over to bitterness on the finish. There is no real heat, as you’d expect from the proof. It is balanced and tasty, a very pleasant aperitif.

My preference is, fortunately, for the current formulation. Even still, you’re not going to get any — not in the United States, anyway — without going to some trouble. But I think it’s worth it.