I received one of the last bottles of the beer Picon in Boston and thought it was pretty cool. Low alcohol, orangey, bitter and that’s about all. You can taste all the ingredients that are on the label and nothing more (gentian, quinine, orange peel). Picon’s allure is enhanced by the fact that you can’t get it, but over all its pretty peasanty stuff and never fetched much money.
Well, I have all the ingredients to construct a batch from scratch so I thought I could make a replica of the elusive, original, higher proof version (that I’ve never had). The recipe will be constructed by educated guess of what it would take to make cocktails that used it sing. Amer Picon feels like it would be the same as any other orange liqueur (brizard, cointreau, creole shrub) but just with gentian and quinine. If Amer Picon had the same alcohol content as the great orange liqueurs then it probably had the same sugar content. And probably even the same orange peel intensity. It is likely that Picon just emulated success.
I made some beautiful tinctures of gentian and quinine and added them to a bottle of creole shrub. And about .75 grams of each botanical by weight dissolved in a tincture (5ml of my proprietary tinctures deployed with a culinary, needleless syringe).
The result of this easy to construct replica is some pretty tasty stuff. Picon (from what I have tasted and what I’ve read of it) really isn’t that bitter. It is not exactly Campari. But the botanicals really lengthen the finish to something very elegant. And make the sugar content seem more pleasant. Maybe it is not peasanty. Maybe it is more like middle class sophistication (fine vermouth is my idea of upperclass tastewise sophistication).
I based my botanical intensities roughly on guidelines from Maynard Amerine’s books of the subject and those guidelines seem to meet the average of most people’s tastes. The test will really be to drink as many Picon cocktails as I can and see if the elements are all parsable and in acceptable sugar balance.
I feel like quinine is a nicer bitter than gentian and maybe I should make it more dominant. That would be my only change so far.
The first cocktail I tried was the Brut Cocktail Variation from the cocktaildb
1.5 oz. dry vermouth (M&R)
.75 oz. amer picon (replica)
dash peychauds bitters
This is beautiful and everything contributes. I even like how my replica Picon’s lack of caramel doesn’t muddy the cocktail’s color. It has this pretty pink hued tint. The acid of the vermouth is in good ratio with sugar of the Picon (justifies my sugar content?) and the bitter quotient is sublime.
My tinctures are as follows:
powdered quinine tincture.
463.3 grams of powdered quinine.
infused in 2 liters of deville brandy (80 proof) with 500ml more of jaques cardin vsop (80 proof) to bring the total to 2500ml
The idea was to terminally infuse the quinine and create a volume measurement that translates to gram of quinine. So I can have a proprietary way of using historical recipes. It didn’t quite work in the end as planned but it is still very useful.
Separating the quinine from the liquid is very difficult so I made the tincture by racking off only the clear liquid from the top. The rest will stay at the bottom and maybe make a different tincture for quinine soda that I make to taste.
The result was 1375ml of tincture (the color is the most stunning ebony!). To account for it differently and approximate the grams per ml
463.3g / 2500ml = .18532 g/ml ! but you don’t know if things are uniformly dissolved or even terminally dissolved. So if anything it would be weaker. And you don’t know anything about the relative quality of raw material anyhow. So this is rather proprietary but reproducible. (I had it all in a standard 3 liter mason jar if that helps anyone) A huge amount of liquid is still locked in the powdered quinine sludge.
93.6 grams of gentian (i only bought a quarter pound)
infused in 750ml of jaques cardin VSOP (80 proof)… (the nose of it reminds me of nuts. peanut and hazelnut with a woody aspect) ended up with a 600ml tincture once it was strained after a couple weeks… 93.6/600 = grams/ml the tincture is .156 grams per ML
This approximates direct infusion. Should you account for that 150 that was lost or not to really get to direct infusion? The big loss of volume means that my measurements are really proprietary to my tinctures.
Maybe if I finish my creole shrub project I can extrapolate how much sugar weight and orange weight goes into every liquid ounce so people can use it to construct Kina Lillet replicas based on old recipes or whatever floats their boat.
So I still haven’t revisited this project but I should still add some tasting notes before I forget them. Down at the tales of the cocktails I was lucky enough to taste Jamie Boudreau’s recipe side by side with a bottle of the original formula Picon. Jamie’s replica is far closer to the original than mine but I did notice that his had too much orange which easily seems to be eliminatable from his recipe. The orange character of mine is way off but who knows how the bottle of the original has aged. The original formula has an oxidized, darker kind of orange character. I wonder if the shade of orange is augmented by the spirit base where maybe my recipe would be much better with a blend of creole shrub and grand marnier. Jamie’s recipe and the original was also far more bitter. My theory of using Amerine’s recipes as a guideline are obviously way off and the original formula anyhow, is far closer to Campari than I would have thought. Oh well, I can just add more tincture.