Amer Picon Bitters is a dark-red liqueur with a bitter orange flavour made in France. It’s meant to be mixed with beer (or drunk with beer as a chaser.) Many like to mix it also with white wine.
It is very popular in Alsace.
Amer Picon Bitters is made from neutral alcohol infused with fresh and dried orange peel, cinchona bark (quinine), sugar syrup, dried gentian root, spices and herbs.
Amer Picon was 39% alcohol up until the 1970s; it was then lowered to 25% alcohol, and lowered again, in 1989, to 19%.
In 1995, they started making a second version called “Picon club” for mixing with dry white wine.
As of 2005, the brand has been owned by the Diageo company.
Amer Picon can be used in mixed drinks, or drunk straight up on ice. It is used to make cocktails such as “Picon Punch” and the “Liberal.”
Amer Picon was invented by Gaétan Picon.
Picon was born in Genoa, Italy in 1809 (Genoa had been annexed to France in 1805.) His family moved to Genoa in 1815. He apprenticed at distilleries in Aix-en-Provence, Toulon and Marseille. He was interested in chemistry, and in the botanical property of plants.
In 1837, he was with the French army in Algeria under Marshall Vallé (1773 – 1846), the Governor of Algeria. Picon contracted malaria, which he’d also had when he was younger. He tried to recreate a mixture that his grandmother had prepared for him at that time, that he believed had helped him. He tried several batches and mixtures before he felt that he had it right.
He made it from alcohol infused with dried orange zest, then distilled. To this he added gentian root, quinine, sugar syrup and caramel. He called it his “tisane” (tea.)
He recovered from malaria, and felt that once again the brew may have helped him. His superior officers noted the mixture, and ordered him to produce it for the troops.
In 1840, his tour of duty in Algeria was over, but he remained in Philippeville (now called “Skikda.”) He opened a distillery to make the concoction in the cellar of the first French-constructed stone building in the town, a large house that would later become the “Hôtel de France.”
He called the product “Amer Africain.”
Demand soon outstripped the capacity of the small distillery. He moved to Algiers, and built a larger distillery there. He later added a distillery in Constantine, and in Bône (now known as Annaba.)
Up until 1870, the product was really only known in Algeria, though recognition started to grow with the product winning an award at the Universal Exposition in London in 1862. But, the small three distilleries in Algeria could not keep up with the demand even in Algeria, let alone abroad.
In 1872, Picon relocated to Marseilles and opened a large distillery. At the same time, he renamed the product to “Amer Picon.”
Before his death, Picon was made a “chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.”
He died in 1882. Running of the company passed to his son and his four sons-in-law. In 1886, they had large, improsing bank-like premises designed for the company by the architect Louis Peyron at 26-28 boulevard National on a site purchased from the Holy Name of Jesus nuns. This building became offices after the Second World War.
Within a short time of its move to France, the company had branches in Rouen and Bordeaux, and then in Levallois-Perret by 1896. Later, branches were added in Barcelona, Brussels, Frankfurt, and Genoa. The Algerian oranges continued to be shipped in through Marseille.
In 1937, the company published a book called “Histoire d’un Siècle Picon (1837 – 1937)” written by Raymond Recouly, Fortunat Strowsky, Paul Reboux and Tristan Bernard. It was 27 pages with colour pictures and photos of the factory at that time.
The slogan at the time was, “Il n’est plus une partie du globe où n’ait pénétré le Picon !” (“there is no longer any part of the world where Picon hasn’t penetrated.”)
In the 1950s, it was being imported into America by Jules Berman & Associates of Beverly Hills, California, the same firm that introduced America to Kahlua.
“Amer” means “bitter” in French.
“L’histoire de l’Amer Picon”. Powerpoint presentation by Colatrella, Jacky and Claude Stefanini. April 2008. Retrieved February 2009 from http://skikdamag.blog.club-corsica.com/art-l%27histoire-de-l%27amer-picon_50627.html
Laurent Noet. Gaétan Picon (sculpteur inconnu.) “Marseille, ville sculptée” blog. Retrieved from http://marseillesculptee.blogspot.com/2008/04/gatan-picon-sculpteur-inconnu.html in February 2009.
Ministère de l’industrie et du travail. Recueil officiel des marques de fabrique et de commerce contenant les marques déposées en Belgique en conformité de la loi du 1er avril 1879. E. Bruylant, 1886
Picon. Retrieved from Wikipédia http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amer_Picon February 2009.