What Is Amer Picon?

How to Find the Elusive Aperitif

Bottles of Picon

Claus Ableiter / CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Amer Picon is a bittersweet French aperitif with a unique orange flavor. It makes a frequent appearance in the original recipes for many classic cocktails, the liberal cocktail and picon punch included. However, drinkers in the U.S. have been unable to find it on liquor store shelves for many years. This leaves many wondering how they can get a bottle.

The good news is that even if you can't get a bottle of Amer Picon itself, viable substitutes are available in the U.S. and one Colorado distillery has revived the original recipe. You may even want to make your own version of the spirit. Before getting to your options, let's get a full understanding of this elusive aperitif.

What Is Amer Picon?

Amer Picon is made of a proprietary blend that dates back to 1837. Orange is the dominant flavor, though quinine, cinchona, and genetian are also known ingredients. The recipe changed many times over the years, and that original blend was halted in the 1880s when, according to distiller Stephen Gould, "production was moved from North Africa to France."

In the 1970s, it was transformed into a weaker form and reduced from 39 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) to 21 percent. Drinkers who have tasted both formulas tend to describe the change as a disappointment. However, if you've not had the original, then the new recipe will likely be impressive.

amer picon facts
Madelyn Goodnight / The Spruce Eats

Amer Picon was widely available when many of the first bartending books were written and that is why it appears in so many recipes from the time. Since it is now a challenge to find outside of France and Europe, this leaves aficionados who want to recreate those drinks looking for alternatives.

Quick Facts

  • Amer translates from French to mean bitter. It is often used to describe a bitter aperitif produced in France, such as Amer Picon. Picon is the actual brand name and they produce other bitters, including Picon Biere, which is often added to a light beer for a shandy-like drink
  • Italian bitters use the word amaro, such as Amaro NoninoAmaro Averna is a popular bitter digestif, meaning it is an after-dinner drink rather than a pre-dinner drink.
  • Other bitter aperitifs include Campari (not orange-flavored) and Aperol (orange-flavored, but considerably different). 

Where Can I Find Amer Picon?

As of the last update of this article, Amer Picon is not available for sale in the United States. Nor will you be able to find it in much of the world outside of Europe.

Tales abound of people using their travels (or friends' travels) to acquire the aperitif. It is easy to find in many parts of Europe, particularly in France where it is produced, and some mention picking it up in Tokyo.

Shopping for Amer Picon online is also a daunting task. Very few websites have it available, though The Whisky Exchange does carry it. They receive many inquiries for Amer Picon and will generally ship most places—the U.S. included, but not Canada. It is recommended that you double-check with them prior to ordering as shipping regulations fluctuate.

Amer Picon is now what absinthe was before it became legal again; an elusive ingredient which enthusiasts are going to seek out, substitute, or make themselves.

Golden Moon Amer dit Picon

In 2008, Golden Moon Distillery opened its doors in Golden, Colorado with a focus on reviving old herbal liqueurs. Among their offerings is Golden Moon Amer dit Picon. According to head distiller Stephen Gould, it uses that original 1830s recipe of Amer Picon, with one exception.

Everything that was supposedly great about the 19th-century formula has come back to life in this well-crafted bottle. The distillery was able to follow the recipe, the only exclusion was calamus root, though they worked around that and replicated it with other natural ingredients. Sticking with the "historically-correct processes" and using antique stills in their production, it offers a taste that has not been available for over a century.

Golden Moon Amer dit Picon is bottled at 39 percent ABV (78 proof). It is available at a number of liquor stores, including online and those that specialize in craft spirits.

Make Your Own Amer Picon

Attempts have been made at homemade reproductions of Amer Picon and the majority have failed. The one that has been tested and approved by classic cocktail experts was developed by Jamie Boudreau. It is noted as being the closest recreation of the original formula and even compared to well-guarded bottles that remain in private collections. His recipe is dubbed "Amer Boudreau" and details of his quest to perfect it, along with the recipe, can be found on Spirits and Cocktails.

Commercial Substitutes

In that same article, Boudreau points out the aspects of common substitutes for Amer Picon and how they differ. The discerning drinker who is familiar with any formula of Amer Picon will notice the difference, though.

No other bitter on the market lives up to the distinct taste of Amer Picon. It is, after all, a proprietary formula, so this is only natural. However, these are some of the options available: 

  • Amer Torani: A replica produced in the U.S. It is not a highly recommended substitute though it is decent, easy to find, and commonly used.
  • Amaro CioCiaro: A recommended substitute for Amer Picon that is produced in Italy.
  • Ramazzotti Amaro: A suitable Italian substitute and the base used for Boudreau's recipe. 
  • Amaro Montenegro: A distinctly lighter amaro than many available. Made in Italy, it lacks the orange component, which is central to Amer Picon. 
  • Amaro Nonino: A grappa-based amaro from Italy with a light profile and a slight hint of bitter orange.