The History Of The Picon Punch.
If you have not heard of this, it’s not surprising. It’s primarily 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 story used by the hotel. The earliest printed reference of the Picon Punch is from the 1900 book “Cocktail Boothby’s American Bartender” by William Boothby of San Francisco, California. It’s the first recipe listed in “miscellaneous and unclassified drinks” and is 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 was invented in Bakersfield, California, during the end of the 19th century. The part I found 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 before 1900 was raspberry syrup. William Boothby was the first American bartender to print recipes using grenadine. Grenadine first started being used in France and England around 1890; in his 1891 edition of the book, the Amer Picon cocktail does not use grenadine but orgeat. The change from orgeat to grenadine makes sense, too, with grenadine’s 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 created point to it being traditionally a French cocktail.
What Does The Picon Punch Taste Like?
I will say that using grenadine instead of orgeat was the right choice. The drink is still good, but the later grenadine version is better. While the grenadine version is like an herbal pomegranate flavored soda, this one has a nutty flavor that doesn’t balance the herbal flavors, and the fruity grenadine does. If the nuttier flavor sounds better to you, try this one. Keep in mind this is just one person’s opinion.
Amer Picon is still not imported into the US, so this is made now with substitutes. Also, Amer Picon isn’t made the same today as during the turn of the century. The alcohol content is different, and so is the flavor. It used to be around 40% abv, and today it’s 18%, and the taste has been updated for modern palates, so basically, it’s an entirely different ingredient other than the name. You’ll never be able to recreate this drink in its original form completely, so find a bittersweet/orangey aperitif you like. Even if you get an actual bottle of Amer Picon from France, it won’t taste like old Amer Picon anyway.