Several months ago, after a visit to Zig Zag, the boys there took pity on me as they observed me pining away (yet again) after a bottle of Amer Picon that they had prominently displayed in order to intrigue the recreational bar fly, and infuriate/frustrate the devote barkeep (i.e. me). After months of wistfully wishing that I had developed the fan base that Murray Stenson had acquired from God knows how many decades of bartending in Seattle, (yes Murray, that was a dig; get your own blog and respond), enabling him to acquire countless obscure spirits whenever one of his regulars goes on vacation, he decided to throw this old dog a bone, and give me one of his bottles (and yes, there are many) of Amer Picon. (Is it just me, or was that last sentence way to long?)
After peeing in my pants, jumping up and down with glee, and giving the staff strict instructions not to touch the bottle until I had photographed and tasted it, I settled down to decipher the liquid gold that was in the bottle. What made it so special that it was named in dozens of cocktail recipes, and why wasn’t it available now?
After a little bit of research, I discovered that while I had no idea why distribution was pretty much limited to France, the recipe for Amer Picon had changed in the 1970’s. Rumor had it that the new Picon was a shadow of its former self, not only in flavor profile, but in proof as well. As I had really enjoyed the taste of the bottle so graciously procured for me, I began to fantasize (as I tend to do when thinking about the bars and spirits of yore) of old Amer Picon, aged, wizened and yet barrel-chested, daring all before him to challenge his greatness.
As I absolutely loved my cocktail experiments with the Amer, I decided that there was no way that I would allow myself to run out of this treasure. I needed to find a source for more, but how? I know of but one person in France, but he rarely comes to this continent, and having him ship bottles of booze from France to here can quickly become costly. So, in my booze-addled mind there was only one solution: make my own.
Step one in the process involved my acquiring some Torani Amer, which from what I understood was America’s answer to Amer Picon. Since I live in Washington, California and its wonderful online liquor stores came to the rescue.
Tasting the Torani next to the Picon immediately revealed that they were not the same beast. While Torani had a higher proof, which I enjoyed, it was more vegetal than orange on my palate, and not a good base from which to start my experiment. Having said that, let it be known that Torani Amer can be used in recipes calling for Amer Picon with pleasant results, albeit some adjusting will be needed in ratios and while the drink won’t be the same, they will still be darn tasty.
Another base was needed, so I looked to my shelf at my selection of Amaros. Montenegro would be too citrusy, Nonino too sweet, but Ramazzotti, with its orange and chocolate notes, would suit Goldilocks just fine.
Having tasted the Ramazzotti next to the Amer Picon, I noticed that the main difference was the lack of bold, complex orange flavors in the amaro. Figuring that orange tincture would fix the problem, I headed down to the cellar to acquire some of the orange tincture that I had in jars for just such an occasion. Adding it to the Ramazzotti, I realized that while it was really close, it was missing some complexity in the orange department. Looking around for different orange flavors, my eyes fell on a bottle of Stirrings Blood Orange bitters. Would it really be that simple? Apparently the answer was yes! I had discovered the Fountain of Youth, and it was to be bottomless.
Cut ahead to the Lost Ingredients seminar at Tales of the Cocktail. The seminar having just ended, I approached Ted Haigh, and introduced myself. We had first had contact years ago when he had asked me for a sample of my citrus bitters, but this was the first time that we had met face to face. I produced a sample of my Amer Picon, which had just been discussed, and his face lit up as he realized what I had.
“Someone get LeNell!”, he exclaimed as he tasted my amer. LeNell approached, and upon seeing my little bottle of Picon, procured, as she had just moments before with Dr. Cocktail, a hip flask which contained a sample of the original, pre-formula change, Amer Picon. A woman with these talents should be invited to every gathering!
Comments noted, when I arrived home, I set about adjusting my recipe, which I now present to you:
3 bottles Amaro Ramazzotti
7 ½ cups orange tincture
¾ bottle Stirrings Blood Orange bitters
¾ liter Evian
place all ingredients into a container and stir.
allow ingredients to get to know each other for at least one week.
filter and bottle.
keep excess refrigerated.
take any size jar, and fill it half way with dried orange peel.
fill remainder of jar with high-proof vodka (I use Smirnoff Blue Label)
let sit for one to two months
strain and filter
to shorten infusion time, shake three times a day and infuse for three to six weeks
high proof vodka extracts more flavor, so if possible, use Everclear and infuse for three weeks, then, after filtering, add water to bring down the proof.
My current favorite drink happens to be a creation of mine that uses the Amer Picon. Sort of a cross between a Creole and a Brooklyn, this is a cocktail that never fails to put me in my happy place.
For your drinking pleasure, I give you the:
2 oz Rittenhouse 100 proof bonded rye
1 oz Amer Picon
¼ oz maraschino liqueur
¼ oz Benedictine
stir and strain
garnish with orange twist if desired
Recipes and pictures by: