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Picon Punch – the True Basque American Drink

Bernard+Igoa+of+Bakersfield+loves+making+his+Picon+Punch+on+Sundays.
Bernard Igoa of Bakersfield loves making his Picon Punch on Sundays.

The drink known as the Picon Punch was originally made with a French liqueur called Amer Picon (bitter) and brandy.

Perhaps because of its French origins, Amer Picon made its way to the American Far West in the Basque enclaves, where the drink Picon Punch was born. Bernard Igoa of Bakersfield, Calif., an avid fan of the drink, notes that grenadine, which is another ingredient, is also French.

The Picon Punch is the true Basque American drink, because it was created in the U.S. and is not served in the Basque Country. Igoa said Bakersfield and San Francisco, Calif., Reno, Nevada and Rock Springs, Wyoming, are places to find a good Picon Punch.

The liqueur was created in 1837 by Frenchman Gaëtan Picon, who was enlisted in the French army, serving in Algeria, like Bernard Igoa (meet him in the video above). The 78-proof Amer Picon liqueur contains local herbs like quinine, cinchona, gentian and a hint of orange peel – hence the advertisements that display the peel.

SEE MORE OF OUR BASQUE RECIPES

This elixir provides unknown medicinal benefits, uniquely combined with various ingredients, making this drink pack a initial bitter punch.

The Basque fell in love with the drink’s notes of sweet grenadine, effervescent sparkling water or soda, orange, lemon, bitter French, Spanish, Italian or American Amer Picon, and herbs only a true Mixologist would dare to concoct. The drink has found a solid place in the hearts of Basques throughout the American West.

According to Jim Vorel, in an article from the website Paste, Amer Picon was created by Gaéton Picon as a way to help soldiers stationed in Algeria swallow quinine, which was an effective remedy against malaria, but terribly bitter. The cinchona bark initially included in Picon is the source of quinine, according to Vorel.

Torani Amer is most frequently used in the drink Picon Punch, since Amer Picon stopped being sold in the U.S.

Amer Picon gained popularity in France and became a key ingredient in several cocktails, most notably the “Picon Bière.” This drink, made by combining Amer Picon with beer, became a beloved aperitif in France and remains popular today.

Over time, the recipe for Amer Picon has evolved, with changes in ingredients and production methods due to factors like availability of certain herbs and changes in consumer tastes. The quinine in the original formula was removed due to its classification as a medicine. The French Amer Picon became difficult to obtain in the U.S. because the FDA prohibited another of the ingredients, calamus, also claiming that it is medicine, according to writer David Lebovitz.

The classic bitter orange taste of the original Amer Picon from France remains a hallmark of this liqueur’s history and legacy, adding to the mystique of the Picon Punch. Because of it’s lack of availability in the U.S., most bars use Torani Amer.


PICON PUNCH RECIPE

Ingredients:
2 oz Torani Amer Liqueur, unless you can find the French Amer Picon
crushed ice
1 tsp. grenadine
2 tsp. brandy
A splash of club soda
lemon twist

Fill a glass with some crushed ice.
Pour the Torani Amer Liqueur
over the ice.
Top with the grenadine and fill the glass with club soda to just under the rim.
Float the brandy on top
Rub the rim of the glass with the lemon twist, then add
to the drink.

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    YvonneDec 21, 2023 at 6:22 am

    Thank you! I miss my father so much and listening to this brings him closer to me. Thank you!

    Reply