Picon Punch

August 13th, 2009  |  Published in amaro, brandy, housemade, liqueur, mixers, recipes  |  12 Comments

Picon PunchIt was with some surprise that I realized a few weeks ago that in the four years that I’ve been at this project, I have yet to write up the Picon Punch. Quel dommage! I should be ashamed.

The Picon Punch is a very specific sort of drink—savory, refreshing, tall and, if you’re into this sort of thing, exceptionally good. My first proper Picon Punch, which came after many not terribly successful attempts on my own, was had at the hands of Dr. Cocktail. He, being the purveyor of all manner of great cocktails, made one for Dan and I while we were over; realizing that the error of the Picon Punch was, as we had suspected, in our incompetence rather than the drink itself, we’ve spent the last few years practicing and perfecting it. These days we burn through a bottle of Torani Amer every month or two, making both the traditional recipe (below) and a modified, brandy-less version given us by Eric Alperin of The Varnish. (Where you can, by the by, get a fabulous Picon Punch.)

All of which leads me to Bakersfield. Yes, that Bakersfield. The Picon Punch, being primarily a Basque drink, can still be found at an astonishing number of bars and restaurants in Bakersfield, California, including Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace. During the Gold Rush of 1848, many Basque immigrants in Central and South America, as well as Basque people still in Europe, followed the call of gold to California. When gold turned out to be in shorter supply than the miners hunting it, many Basque people settled in the Central Valley as ranchers and shepherds. That influence is still strongly felt all over the Central Valley, especially in Bakersfield, where you can walk into a bar as ask simply for a “picon” to be served a Picon Punch.

2½ oz Torani Amer*
1 oz brandy
1 tsp grenadine
club soda

Add the Torani and grenadine to a highball or collins glass filled with ice. Fill with club soda and float the brandy on top. Serve.

*The original recipe calls for Amer Picon, which has been out of production since the late ’70s. If you’re in Europe, Diageo makes Picon Club, which is an acceptable substitute (though Doc swears it is not even close to the original). Torani Amer—the only Torani product which contains alcohol—is as good as it gets here in the States unless you happen upon a dusty thirty year-old bottle of real Amer Picon.

Torani just recently altered the formulation of Torani Amer to a more flavorful, orange-forward version than the previous, intensely vegetal one. Unfortunately, the bottles appear exactly the same; I have yet to figure out a way to tell them apart other than with guesswork based on the amount of dust on the shoulders of the bottle. The new bottles make a much, much better Picon Punch, though the old one wasn’t terrible. Your first Picon Punch may be a bit challenging—it has a unique flavor—but one of these really hits the spot on a hot summer evening.

Picon Punch

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  1. Vidiot says:

    August 13th, 2009at 2:21 pm(#)

    Have you tried the Amer Boudreau in this? It looks great.

  2. Paystyle says:

    August 14th, 2009at 9:48 am(#)

    Bakersfield?!! Really?! I had no idea. I can’t recall how many times I drove through Bakersfield on my way to the Bay Area and thought to myself, “the only way I’m stoppin is either for gas or Harris Ranch.” I had no clue there was a Basque community there. Now I can add a third reason to stop in B’field.

  3. Marleigh says:

    August 17th, 2009at 8:50 am(#)


    I’m far too lazy to make Amer Boudreau, though the batches of Chuck’s that I’ve tasted are quite good. I’m sure Jamie’s Amer is great, but we really haven’t had that much to complain about in the Torani so we haven’t gone the extra step of tracking down the ingredients for his recipe. ;)


    The best Morrissey show I’ve been to was in Bakersfield, so that softened me up a bit about the place—before that it was just that big rest stop during family road trips. It’s an odd place, but definitely worth a visit to check out the Picon and, if you’re a country music fan, there’s a ton of great history there.

  4. Chuck says:

    August 18th, 2009at 7:00 pm(#)

    Now that the Torani Amer product has been so successfully reformulated, Chuck is now too lazy to make Amer Boudreau too. :)

    Of course, after Bobby Heugel gave me a healthy dose of authentic, vintage Amer Picon I am now spoiled forever, sigh …

  5. Dr. Bamboo says:

    August 19th, 2009at 11:02 am(#)

    I have to admit I’m not terribly fond of the Torani Amer (but maybe I just had a bad bottle), but the Boudreau stuff (actually, SeanMike’s reproduction of the Boudreau recipe) is fantastic, IMHO. I’ve made way too many Picon Punches with it.

  6. Marleigh says:

    August 19th, 2009at 1:51 pm(#)

    Maybe one day we’ll stumble upon a case, Chuck. Maybe…

    Dr. B—You may have one of the old bottles, but so long as you’re drinking Picon Punches does it really matter which Amer you prefer?

    P.S. Do you like our new Picon glasses? ;)

  7. Louie says:

    August 26th, 2009at 9:21 pm(#)

    The key to mixing a good Picon is the glass! In Northern Nevada Basque country they use a special 6 oz glass. This glass is found in any Basque restaurant, in fact they are an icon. They use this same glass in the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco for Irish Coffee. Just a thought….

  8. Denise says:

    August 28th, 2009at 5:12 pm(#)

    I was born and raised in Bakersfield. All I say is, don’t knock it till you try it. Love Picon but actually prefer the cheap red house wine served by each establishment. What can I say? I love to get a side of blue cheese to eat with the bread, soup, beans and salsa. Ever had pickled tongue? Not my cup of tea, but oxtails, lamb, porkchops, garlic fried chicken–Mmmmm! Not to mention all the sides. Next time you are passing thru, plan on stopping at Woolgrowers, Noriega Hotel, Narducci’s, Pyrenees Cafe or Benji’s French Basque. Be sure you are hungry because it is a lot of good food, served family style. Sorry to post so off topic, but had to give some props to my hometown. =)

  9. Mike S. says:

    September 2nd, 2009at 8:42 pm(#)

    I love this drink, and I’m enjoying one as I type this. I tried several times to make Amer Boudreau but just could not get it to work to my satisfaction. The reformulated Torani Amer is just fine with me!

    I do have a vintage bottle of Amer Picon Phillipeville from circa 1933-1944 (based on my research into the tin Italian tax medallion tied around the top), but I have not yet worked up the courage to open it.

  10. Chuck says:

    September 3rd, 2009at 9:47 am(#)

    Mike, all I’ll say is that the vintage Amer Picon (early ’60s, we’re guessing) that I tasted a while back is one of the most amazing things I have EVER tasted.

    Best. Hoskins. EVAR. :)

  11. Marleigh says:

    September 3rd, 2009at 10:20 am(#)


    Everything I’ve heard, from Doc and Chuck, confirms that real Amer Picon is transcendent. Be warned, however, that once you open that bottle you have to be prepared to drink it within the first few months. Vintage spirits oxidize much faster than their newer counterparts, and if you want to enjoy the Picon at its fullest, drink it quick!

    (And invite us over when you do!)

  12. Five food memories with Mark « the south in my mouth says:

    April 14th, 2010at 4:57 pm(#)

    [...] both captivated by both the food and the crowd. We sat in the bar with miners and cowboys, sipping Picon Punch. It is very refreshing and extremely potent. We needed that huge steak loaded with garlic to get us [...]

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