Monday, May 25, 2009

Amer Picon, Torani Amer and Amer Boudreau

Amer Picon is yet another of the "lost" ingredients popular among the cocktail crowd these days. Originally invented by Gaetan Picon in the mid-1800's, it was used to combat malaria, first by himself, then by the French Army during his time in Algeria. It contains orange peels, gentian root and quinine among other things.

The formulation changed forever in the 1970's when it went from 78 proof down to 39 proof, making it difficult to recreate the flavor profile and potency of the original version in cocktails. The new formulation is only widely available in France and is not sold in the U.S.

A number of people have set out to recreate this classic ingredient, most notably the Torani company, maker of all of those flavored syrups (their orgeat is my favorite), who market a product known simply as Torani Amer. At 79 proof, many enthusiasts proclaim this to be close replica of the original Amer Picon. And apparently things improved recently when people started noticing a distinct lack of an undesirable vegetal, celery-like flavor element, which they believed pagued this product for a long time. (I have not tried the pre-reformulated version). The reformulated version is very good with a distinct orangey nose, is fairly high alcohol, and has a nice bitter finish. It is very popular in San Francisco and anywhere with a large Basque community (e.g. San Bernardino, Fresno) where Picon Punch seems to be a cultural phenomenon.

Recently, well known bartender and cocktail enthusiast Jamie Boudreau developed an Amer Picon replica known widely as "Amer Boudreau" (recipe here) which makes use of a homemade orange tincture (dried orange peel soaked in high-proof vodka or grain alcohol), Ramazzotti Amaro (which I originally discovered while in Italy - fabulous on its own) and Stirrings Blood Orange bitters. The version I made is a little sweeter than the Torani Amer, but part of that is due to the fact that I used 80 proof vodka so the overall proof level is lower. I'll use a higher proof vodka or Everclear for my next batch.

As far as cocktail recipes, three that I really like are provided below. I discovered the recipe for the Brooklyn Cocktail in an article in Imbibe magazine titled "Gone but not Forgotten" about defunct and lost ingredients.

The Picon Punch recipe is adapted from the recipe in the book aperitif by Georgeanne Brennan. There are a lot of variations on the Picon Punch recipe - many do not use lemon juice at all, but only the peel as the garnish. Some omit the soda. I like both in there. It is an amazingly refreshing cocktail and you can increase or decrease the amount of soda quite a bit without diminishing the enjoyment of this beverage.

The Liberal cocktail recipe is from CocktailDB and makes use of rye and orange bitters. It's similar to a Manhattan but with an extra orangey flavor profile in the background. I'm increasingly becoming a fan of the Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond (BIB) rye whiskey, which I recommend in this cocktail. While I gave it low marks on its own during a recent rye tasting, I've found that it brings out an extra dimension in mixed drinks (especially when paired with Carpano Antica Formula vermouth) and is fast establishing itself as a standard for me in the Manhattan.

Brooklyn cocktail
2 oz rye or bourbon (Sazerac Rye)
3/4 oz dry vermouth
1/4 oz Amer Picon (or substitute)
1/4 oz maraschino liqueur (Luxardo)
Add ingredients to a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a marasca cherry.

Picon Punch
1 1/2 oz Amer Picon (or substitute)
1.5 tsp grenadine (homemade)
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1 tsp brandy
soda water (~2-4 oz. depending on level of refreshment desired)
Add ingredients except brandy to a large-ish wine goblet, top off with soda, add lemon twist and float the brandy.

Liberal Cocktail
1 1/2 oz rye or Bourbon whiskey (Rittenhouse BIB)
1/2 oz sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula)
1/4 oz Amer Picon (or substitute)
1 dash orange bitters (Regan's)
Add ingredients to a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a marasca cherry.

Final Notes - The currently available forms of Amer Picon - Torani Amer and homemade "Amer Boudreau" are enjoyable base ingredients for a number of interesting cocktails. The Torani Amer is inexpensive and readily available ($10.99 at BevMo) and makes a delicious Picon Punch among other things. For those of you enamored with the idea of making your own spirits, the "Amer Boudreau" is fairly easily made and delicious as well - similar but slightly sweeter. So pick up or make a bottle of Amer and find out what it's all about for yourself.

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