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.
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.