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.

Books Reviews

Book Review: Jason Wilson’s “Wine Cocktails (Planet of the Grapes)”

The use of wine in cocktails is a hot trend among today’s top bartenders. But as Jason Wilson’s excellent new book shows, this trend is actually ages old.

I grew up in Bakersfield, California, a community with a large Basque population. (Thus my fondness for the Picon Punch.) One of the most popular drinks with younger Basques is Calimocho, a combination of cheap red wine and Coke. It’s one of those things that sounds revolting, but turns out to be surprisingly good. It makes for a refreshing drink on a hot day — and also helps use up the old wine that doesn’t taste so great on its own.

The Calimocho is far from unique. As long as people have been drinking wine, they’ve been mixing it with other things. Wine and soda of various sorts has long been a staple, as has the ubiquitous Sangria, which is properly made with wine, brandy, fruit, and possibly a liqueur. Different types of Champagne cocktails — including the sly and potent French 75 — have also dominated the field.

But it’s not just the more common types of wine that have featured in mixed drinks. Sherry and port have a rich history of use in concoctions of various types, especially back in Colonial times, when cobblers and sangarees of all stripes were the hot items of the day.

Wine Cocktails explores some of the history and development of these cocktails, along with general background on the wines themselves. Wilson’s writing is as lively and entertaining as always, making this a useful read even if your mixology skills are lacking.

The best part of Wine Cocktails, naturally, is the recipes, and Wilson collects a wide variety both old and new, many of them from top mixologists, utilizing a varieties of wines, spirits, and flavors. These are the real deal, not like so many of the recipes you find on the Internet. You can make these drinks trusting that you’ll end up with a final product that is unique and delicious.

All told, this is an indispensable book for anyone looking to learn more about this fascinating — and very tasty! — trend.

Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather

Recipe by Jason Wilson, as published in "Wine Cocktails"


  • 1 1/2 oz. Dark or Aged Rum
  • 1 1/2 oz. Shiraz or Cabernet-Shiraz Blend
  • 1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1/4 oz. Agave Nectar
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters (optional)
  • Ginger Beer


  1. Shake all ingredients (except ginger beer) with ice, then strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Top off with ginger beer.


Cocktail Recipe: Picon Punch

Picon Punch

Picon Punch


  • 2 1/2 oz. Amer Picon (substitute Torani Amer)
  • 1 tsp. Grenadine
  • 1-2 oz. Club Soda
  • 1/2 oz. Brandy


  1. Build in a highball or collins glass filled with ice. Add Amer Picon and grenadine, then give a quick stir. Top with club soda, then the brandy float. Garnish with a lemon twist.