What I Drank on my Summer Vacation

It’s the first day of school here in Seattle, the day I dropped off my son for the start of first grade and started looking ahead to the routine that is fall and winter. Back when I was part of the elementary school set, it was customary to start the school year by recapping all the fun you’d had that summer, so you could then put it away and forget all about it while stuck in a classroom for the next nine months.

Old habits die hard, so before autumn totally moves in — it already made a good grab for it here on Monday — I want to take one last, lingering sip of the drink that I fell head-over-heels for during the summer of ’07.

No, it’s not the Paloma (even the Mi Amante version) — though we had our fun, I found something deeper. No, through a fortunate convergence of events, this summer I wound up mixing a drink I found even more swoon-worthy, and it became my go-to refresher on hot summer nights (what few of them we have here in Seattle): the Picon Punch.

The recipe is from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, and the first time I tried it, a couple of summers back, I was pretty unimpressed. The true Picon Punch, of course, was made with Amer Picon — the stuff that used to be everywhere, but then was reformulated in the 1970s and pretty much disappeared from U.S. liquor stores (though it seems some has cropped up recently in Boston and other places). The primary substitute in recent years has been Torani Amer, made in California, which has a mostly similar but not-quite-on-the-nose flavor to that of the original Picon. My first punch was made with the Torani Amer, and as I said, it didn’t go over well.

But last spring, two things happened, both related to research I was doing for the Vintage Ingredients story that appeared in the July/August issue of Imbibe. First, I interviewed Ted Haigh, and listened to him wax rhapsodic about the pleasures of a good Picon Punch — “That’s the drink for me on a summer day,” he said. His enthusiasm for the drink was infectious, and I made a mental note to try it again in the near future.

Then, that very afternoon, I interviewed Jamie Boudreau at Vessel, fully intending to talk only about creme de violette and falernum, but during our talk Jamie told me something electrifying: he’d come up with a facsimile of the original Amer Picon. I tasted it then and there, side by side with the current Picon, and the difference was startling: the basic flavor profile was near-identical, yet the replica was much more robust — higher proof, too — and had a much more satisfying oranginess about it, a taste that is sorely lacking in the more vegetal Torani Amer. Jamie passed along the recipe, and that ran in Imbibe, too. (And if you look around, you’ll find the results of a side-by-side tasting of the replica with vintage Picon somewhere around here.)

With the recipe, however, I wasted little time, and put together a batch — which, unfortunately, takes about two months to make. The replica was finally ready in early July, and the very first drink I made was the Picon Punch. Anticipating the weird celery quality of the Torani Amer, I sipped the drink with some apprehension, but that was unnecessary — this is a fantastic drink. Rich, bitter but not overwhelmingly so, pleasantly orangey and with a nice fruitiness from the grenadine and the cognac, the Picon Punch is quite possibly the ultimate summer cooler. It was my favorite for the summer of ’07, anyway, and whatever happens in the fall, we’ll always have memories of the summer.

Picon Punch

Fill a collins or highball glass with ice. Add

  • 1 teaspoon grenadine (my homemade stuff isn’t as sweet as commercial, so I used a little more)
  • 2 1/2 ounces Amer Picon or replica

Fill almost to the top with club soda and give a gentle stir. Float:

  • 1 ounce brandy or cognac

Sweet Jesus, that’s good.

13 Responses to What I Drank on my Summer Vacation

  1. Wow, this sounds tempting! Any way to get that recipe outside of a mag’? Summer doesn’t fade as quickly, here in San Diego, so it could come in handy. 🙂

  2. You don’t mention zig zag in your trip to Seattle. Please don’t tell me you went to Seattle and didn’t stop by and see Murray.

    Jamie makes great drinks, and when he wants a good drink for himself, he heads over to zig zag.

  3. gilrain — no worries, the recipe is forthcoming. To keep in good graces with my publisher, I need to wait until the magazine is off the newsstands (with a little grace period) before I start revealing what was in print. I’ll post the replica recipe soon.

    anonymous — dude, look around the site. I live in Seattle; I see Murray pretty much on a weekly basis (health & travel permitting), and reference him here almost as frequently. I see Jamie at Zig Zag more often than I see him at Vessel. Thanks for plugging Zig Zag, but I’m way ahead of you.

  4. Woo!

    Picked up all the stuff to make Jamie’s Amer Picon recipe this AM.

    I will probably take a shortcut on the Orange infusion, (orange oil and microplaned fresh peel combined in vodka,) instead of dry peel.

    One interesting thing I learned when asking about Amaro Ramazzotti was my local liquor store manager told me the distributor or importer had gone out of business. He hadn’t seen it on the list of products for a while. Dunno if this is just CA.

    Sheesh! After the hassle with the Suze, this is starting to sound like a broken record.

  5. Oh, and speaking of uses for Amer Picon, I recently got to try a Picon Biere, and you know, it’s pretty tasty.

    I’m not someone who normally approves of stuff in my beer; but, the Picon in a beer was nice, light, and summery. Could see it being habit forming.

  6. Erik – uh oh, I better check on the Ramazotti.

    I had a Picon Biere in France last summer, and I agree — it’s a nice little tipple. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a friggin’ bottle of the stuff to bring home, but it seems a healthy suitcase-import situation is developing in different cities. Though I prefer the replica to the current Picon Club in cocktails, the Picon Biere would be nice to have around.

  7. So Paul, the recipe for the replica Picon is in what, the July/August issue of Imbibe. Specifically the article: “Gone But Not Forgotten: Vintage Spirits and Exotic Liqueurs.” I just subscribed to Imbibe and I’d like to order the correct back issue.


  8. I am such a huge supporter of Amaros and Bitters especially those of Italian decent. I came across one which is fantastic to mix with. It is called Meletti Amaro. It has a very small amount of caramel in it. The flavors are mostly spices (cinammon and clove). It is quite different than Averna which is heavy on the caramel and more herbacious. I made a variation on a Negroni with it using equal parts Plymouth Gin, Punt e Mes and Meletti.

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