History Of The Picon Punch
If you have not heard of this it’s not surprising. It’s mostly made in the western side of the United States and is popular in parts of California and Nevada with large Basque immigrant populations. If you go to Basque areas in northern Spain they will have no idea what this is. Most of the histories I have found on this credit its creation to the Noriega Hotel in Bakersfield California. Although I think that was more just a cool story used by the hotel and I don’t think that’s the case. The earliest printed reference I can find of the Picon Punch is from the 1900 book “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bartender” by William Boothby of San Francisco, California. Its the first recipe listed in “miscellaneous and unclassified drinks” and is simply called an Amer Picon. The drink is labeled as already being a popular beverage in France, and that makes a lot more sense to me than it being invented in Bakersfield California during the end of the 19th century. The part I personally find most difficult to imagine was that a small hotel in Bakersfield was using grenadine before 1900.
The most popular red fruit syrup in the US prior to 1900 was raspberry syrup. William Boothby was actually the first American bartender to print recipes using grenadine. Grenadine first started being used in France and England around 1890, and in fact in his 1891 edition of the book, the Amer Picon cocktail does not use grenadine but orgeat instead. The change from orgeat to grenadine makes sense too with grenadines explosive popularity in France during that decade. Check out my grenadine article for its history and use in cocktails.
The hotel was founded in 1893 so that would have given them plenty of time to use Amer Picon before it stopped being imported to the US in 1920, but I don’t buy that it was invented there. The use of grenadine, and references to its recipe many years before its origin story says it was invented point to it being traditionally a French cocktail.
What Does The Picon Punch Taste Like
This is a uniquely refreshing, lightly sweet, fruity and herbal cocktail. It’s a lot of flavors that don’t really sound like they should work together but they do. It’s kinda like an herbal pomegranate flavored soda but it’s hard to describe and is one you really just need to try. While the garnish can be important in cocktails (Some are purely decorative) it is essential in this cocktail. The lemon oil on top took this cocktail from being just ok to being actually really good. Also the Aperitif you use makes a huge difference so get one you like to drink straight. I used Amaro Nonino and it turned out great, but Amaro Nonino is pretty pricey so if there is another one you like then give that a try.
A substitute aperitif has to be used because Amer Picon is not imported into the US, and has not been since prohibition. Also too Amer Picon isn’t made the same today as it was during the turn of the century. The alcohol content is different and so is the flavor. It use to be around 40% abv and today its 18% and the flavor has been updated for modern palates, so basically its a completely different drink other than the name. You’ll never be able to completely recreate this drink in its original form so just find a bittersweet/orange-y aperitif you like.
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