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When you write a book, it goes through several editing phases. The first is the developmental edit, which happens when you’re sort of on your way there, and your editor wants to see it. (And make sure you haven’t been sitting around watching Netflix all day.) Once that is read, you get pages of suggestions for what you should change, what should be kept, what needs to be modified, and perhaps suggestions on how to do those things. Then, you go back to work.

The next few steps are more edits, including a pass for grammar and spelling, and someone to check to make sure you said when there is “1 teaspoon of lemon juice” in the ingredient list, that it’s sure to be in the instructions for making the cake or cocktail. When you’re looking at the same words for two years, an errant keystroke or a reviewing a three-hundred-plus-page document filled with digital notes, comments, and directions laid over the text, can have unintended consequences.

Drinking French

Every step of the way, every editor (the main editor…as well as the copy editor, production editor, and proofreader) questioned the same thing in Drinking French: It was about Amer Picon. What would an amer be called in English? Is it Amer Picon or Picon Amer? (Or is that moot, since the most recent bottles now are labeled Picon Bière?). But most of all, the editors were inquiring why was I including a liquor in the book that had an ingredient that wasn’t available in the United States. What was I thinking?

True, you can’t get Amer Picon in the United States, for reasons I explained in the book. On the other hand, it’s such an iconic spirit and bottle in France, I felt it would be remiss to write a book about French drinks and not include it. There was even a café in Paris that had a giant bottle of Picon on top of it that sadly wasn’t saved when the café was renovated. (Heck, I would have taken it.)

To categorize it, French amers are sometimes called the “French amaro” (or amari) riffing off Italian and Swiss amari that can range from being mouth-curlingly, almost undrinkably bitter, to fruity and juicy, with a pleasant sweetness. While Italians (and Swiss, and more and more Americans) like some roughness, the brackish bitterness doesn’t have the same appeal to the modern French palate as an after-dinner digestive or apéritif. So the majority of it, nowadays in France, is added to beer.

Amer Picon was created in 1837 by Gaéton PIcon, a Frenchman doing his military service in North Africa, who contracted malaria (as did many of his fellow soldiers) and came up with a tonique that made drinking quinine palatable. It was relatively high in alcohol at the time, 39% ABV, which the troops certainly didn’t mind either. I explained the progression of Amer Picon over the years in Drinking French (pages 98-99) but post-publication, a liquor distributor I was talking to recently called quinine “the CBD of the late 1800s,” meaning that it became somewhat of the cure-all of its day.

The recipe for Amer Picon has changed over the years, and nowadays packs a much milder punch; the current version is 18% ABV. It’s most popular in the north of France, so they say, due to the high beer consumption there.

Confusingly, there are two types of Picon available in France: Picon Club and Picon Bière, which is the current ‘expression’ of Picon Amer. The former is meant to be served as an apéritif, perhaps mixed with white wine while the latter is meant to be added to beer. (They’re not entirely that far apart and one could certainly stand in for the other.) Picon is just one brand, though, and there is a variety of amers available and sold in France, which similar flavor profiles, and also meant to be added to beer.

Some are rather generic, like the one shown above (on the right), sold for less than €10 a bottle in France at supermarkets and grandes surfaces (hypermarchés, or giant supermarkets,) and even Suze got into the act, with their own Suze pour Bière, which you also won’t find outside of France.

Amer Picon isn’t limited to being an addition to beer, though. A few classic cocktails also have some Amer Picon added, such as the Brooklyn and Picon Punch, which are both included in the book, along with the curious history that led to a movement to make Picon Punch the official state drink of….Nevada.

One available favorite (available in the U.S.) swap-out for Picon Amer is Bigallet China-China which combines sweet and bitter orange peels, as well as gentian and other botanicals, and is sweetened with a bit of caramel to take the edge off. Its robust flavor works well in any cocktail (or beer) where Picon Amer is called for.

When researching the book, I fell hardest for Sepia from Audemus Spirits, which has minty notes with background flavors of angelica and chicory. It’s what spirits writer Brad Thomas Parsons calls a “suitcase bottle,” meaning that when you visit France, it’s something you’d want to pack in your suitcase to bring home. (And I recently learned that you can buy inserts or suitcases that are specifically built for doing just that.)

A few distillers in the U.S. have taken up the cause and make their own versions of Amer Picon. Golden Moon Distillery makes Amer dit Picon. Known for their flavored syrups, there’s Torani Amer. And Amer Depot, a craft distillery in Nevada, also makes their own version. All are quite rugged and you may find them tough to drink on their own and I personally lean toward the French-made Sepia Amer and China-China. A newcomer on the scene is Forthave Spirits Three, which is a limited edition.

If you can’t get any of those and you have a recipe that called for Amer Picon, you could swap in a less-aggressive amaro, such as Ramazzotti or Cio Ciara, which have a similar profile. Adding a few drops of orange bitters when using a traditional amaro will bring it closer to Amer Picon.

For the DIY-folks out there, if you’re looking for an ambitious project, Jamie Boudreau, owner of Canon Bar in Seattle (and author of The Canon Cocktail Book), has a recipe for Picon. I haven’t given it a go, but if you do, I raised a glass to you!



    • Siobhan Gallagher

    David, as a copyeditor who’s an avid cook and edited a few cookbooks and the like, your opening description of all of these editors (most of which catch first-time authors completely unaware) made me smile and nod. I, too, would have queried including Amer Picon if there was no way for the target market to obtain it, as that’s my job to advocate for the reader, but with the internet these days, as a reader I’d have searched online for a sub. And as you say here, “Jamie Boudreau, owner of Canon Bar in Seattle (and author of The Canon Cocktail Book), has a recipe for Picon.” Sounds like it might be an ambitious one but, from my perspective, it sounds like your bases are covered! Look forward to getting my hands on a copy of the book. Congrats!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I made sure that there were obtainable substitutes. With the internet, it’s gotten much easier to write a cookbook (in terms of calling for ingredients) even though I try not to make readers/bakers/cooks/drink makers reach too far to get ingredients to make recipes. Of course, this is a book about French spirits but I spent a fair amount of time in liquor stores in the U.S. seeing what they had, which was generally quite impressive, even standard liquor stores, not upscale ones. I do feel like sometimes cookbooks are educational and provide a window into another culture so in some instances it’s fine to reach outside the boundaries. But I generally avoid it, but it was impossible to not mention something so iconically French.

    • Romayne

    Fascinating reading, and amazing research. Wow!

    • KBP

    Many years ago, at L’Auberge Chez Francois, in the VA countryside, my husband was served a drink consisting of Amer Picon & beer & was hooked. On our next visit to Paris, day 1 consisted of searching for this precise liquor in all the stores familiar to us; no dice. At the end of the long, disappointing day, while buying groceries at our local Super Marche to stock our rental apartment’s fridge, I finally noticed a very tall pyramid of bottles just feet from where we stood; Amer Picon almost up to the ceiling. He’s still enjoy the bounty of that trip!

      • Charlie

      Ahhh…. L’Auberge Chez Francois, in the VA countryside! If you can’t go to France, go to this delightful restaurant. You’ll love it. I’m guessing David has been there, too.

    • Anne Emry

    Fun to read about the DIY recipe, and I might arm myself with a suitcase insert when we can travel. Thanks for introducing ne to the Brooklyn–now a fave!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Aren’t those funny? The guys at Forthave Spirits in Brooklyn showed me those, which they use to transport bottles back and forth.

    • angela billows

    Luckily I live in France and since reading Drinking French have regularly been adding a shot of Picon into my beer. I’m not a big beer drinker, but find the Picon adds a lovely extra dimension.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, it’s quite good in beer. I really enjoy it too!

    • Richard Scheideman

    David, in the 70sand80s the in-laws would take us to the Gold Spike ,in AGO and served a Pic on Punch. An Irish coffee glass wi’ve ,grenadine Pic on slash is soda water,and float of brady.The owners claimed they sold the most pic on in Ca.

    • Peter Longenecker

    About the editing process . . . just curious . . . did any of your editors say anything about the recipes for Lillet Reviver and Ménage à Quatre being identical, except for a couple of drops of Absinthe in the former?

    BTW, I was skeptical about buying a book with such a narrow focus, but when apero hour comes around, I am ever thankful I did. Wonderful recipes and supporting background stories. Thanks so much.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      The book was only supposed to have 15 cocktail recipes, and a fraction of the other recipes that now appear in the book. (There’s a total of 160 now and the book is 30% longer than originally anticipated.) There is invariably some overlap in drinks as certain ingredients mix well together but I wrote the book and included the recipes as the story of French drinks progressed, from café drinks, through apéritifs, cocktails, and digestives/infusions. So there are bound to be some similarities but think of them as a bonus, above and beyond the original 15 : )

    • Nancy

    Looking this up, it seems to be available at Total Wine and Beverage in the US. Unable to find it here in Italy.

      • Charlie

      I just logged into Total Wine here in the US and only saw the two US-substitutes, not the authentic Amer Picon from France.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      You should be able to find it in Italy. But you have some may amari there, you could def. use one of those, one that is a little fruity and not super bitter, such as Averna or Montenegro

    • teri

    Oh – other than wanting to hop on a plane to France (!), I have two comments.
    1. Hooray for “above and beyond the original 15”! I bought this book for my sister, and also made a batch of rhubarb cordial to give her.
    Unfortunately (?), I haven’t seen her for a couple of months.
    Which means I 1) need to buy her a new book, as the original is dog-eared and splattered, and 2) need to make a second batch of the cordial.

    2. I also made the Green Walnut Liqueur. Living in Michigan, I was putting it together when the light came on and realized I was using black, not English, walnuts (which I assume is what you used). Growing up on my grandmother’s black walnut fudgey cake frosting; I love the blacks, but know they’re much stronger – so am curious as to how it will turn out. However, it’s been about a month now, and sampling it is divine.
    Thank you for such a delightful book!

    • Franko

    I have actually made Jamie Boudreau’s amer picon recipe, and i can attest that it is well worth the time, expense, and effort. it makes a lot, but it lasts forever and also makes a nice gift. as a bonus, you get to make his Nirvana cocktail, which is sublime.

    Question: when you add picon to beer, how much do you add? dashes, ounces, to taste, or what?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I give a recipe (with proportions) in my book, but most café people just eyeball it. Some glasses, like the one shown in the post, have little markers indented in them to give an indication of how much to pour. It can vary but 1:5 to 1:7 are about right.

    • Joan

    On our first trip to Paris *D* ordered a Picon Biere without knowing what it was.

    We were familiar with the Picon Punch cocktail back home, but didn’t make the connection

    …just thinking it was another brand of beer.

    He was instantly hooked, and now our jet lag ritual after landing includes a Picon Biere on the terrasse of whichever bar/cafe is nearest our apartment :-)

      • Joan

      …un demi bien sûr.

    • Susan

    Hello, I had some Picon Punch in a Basque restaurant back in the early 70’s in the foothills of CA and LOVED it immediately. Never had it or seen it since :( I do like Flemish Sours so maybe I just have a weird taste.
    Thank you for that post.

    • Sharon Miro

    David, I have made Jamie’s Amer and loved it for more than just its taste. It introduced me to Ramazotti, which I love and gave me a place to use the many bottles of orange tincture I had made from the bitter oranges I was gifted. Of course, first I had to make the orange bitters… :)

    • Andrew Buchanan

    Thank you very much David for sticking to your guns and including Picon Amer in your book, even though it isn’t available in the US. Book publishers and editors must realise that your books sell all over the world. Picon Amer is definitely available from some specialist places in Australia so I have naturally bought a bottle to add to the massive collection of bottles I have happily acquired to make your cocktail recipes. I haven’t found a cocktail I didn’t like yet!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      On their part (my publisher’s), they were mostly looking out for me, querying about featuring an ingredient that might be a challenge for some to find. But I did list available substitutions that are found in the U.S. (and elsewhere) so people could make do. Glad you’ve been adding to your collection in Australia and that you’re enjoying all the cocktails!

    • Ben M

    Drinking French has more than enough recipes that Americans can easily make with available ingredients, and it’s also clearly written to be “educational and provide a window into another culture.” Since Amer Picon is a staple of French drinking, of course it should be featured in a book called Drinking French. You also include great homemade liqueur recipes (I’m steeping my second batch of Liqueur de Fraises). And the Apero Snacks section features some great recipes to accompany the drinks.

    That said, I can understand some minor frustration at unavailable ingredients. I was staring last night at your beautiful picture of the Quatresse and noting I have abundant fresh sage and even Laphroaig–but no Suze. I considered subbing Aperol, but that seemed like it would be a totally different drink. I may even consider the DIY version at since it sounds like such an interesting apéritif.

    An odd twist to drink availability in the U.S. is that it varies widely from state to state. I finally decided to invest in a high quality kirsch after finishing my old bottle last year and was told at the liquor store that kirsch is officially unavailable in the entire state of Ohio. But we finally have Amaro Montenegro, so I may have to pick up a bottle. Could I tweak that with some orange bitters as a substitute for Amer Picon?

    • Jenny

    As a non-French European, I seldom have access to neither the French or the American alternative of ingredients.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Fortunately most countries in Europe have their own “amers” or amari (herbal bitters). Unicum, for example, is available in Hungary and Eastern Europe. Italy and Switzerland produce quite a few types of bitter herbal aperitifs. Not sure where you live but check in a local liquor shop or even the grocery store.

    • Jenny

    Denmark, so I gues that gammel dansk (old danish) is our national bitter :-)

    • Lisa Cain

    I just bought your book and it is as good as it is going to get right now in terms of European travel. I LOVE it. It is so many things – a travelogue, a great cafe guide, a cultural discussion – and of course the recipes (thank you for your attention to detail). Bravo!! I will drink to you here in Massachusetts.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks so much for your kind words…and glad you’re enjoying the book! : )

    • Elise

    Hi David! I have followed your blog for quite a few years and even followed a guide you had back in 2013 for our Paris honeymoon. I’m currently reading l’appart and enjoying it immensely. Do you have a substitute for amer picon for us Canadian folk? I have purchased Unicum which is thankfully available to us. It’s very strong and bitter. Hopefully that’s similar to amer picon in taste. Have you tried unicum and can compare the two? If not, do you have any other recommendations? I just want to make sure I have the right flavour profile for your drinks in drinking French. You have changed our approach to cocktails and drinks. My husband has a great appreciation for French liqueurs now. Thanks!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      hi Elise; The Bigallet China-China I mentioned in the post that’s made in France, is available in Canada. They have a whole website for
      their products in Canada. cheers!

    • Justine

    Hi David, thanks for your fantastic blog and Instagram lives. It seems like I’m spoiled for choice in Australian as I can find all three of the amers you mention, although they are quite expensive here. Which one would you suggest investing in first? Cheers!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      My personal favorite is the Bigalett China-China. It’s also available in half-bottles (375ml), in case you don’t want to get a whole bottle.

        • Justine

        Thanks David. My book arrived yesterday and I’m currently enjoying a Scofflaw with The Gospel Australian Rye Whiskey and homemade grenadine. Australian single malt whiskey is really getting going here in Australia and now small local distilleries are releasing Rye too which is very exciting. This is my first time drinking rye (I like scotch but not so much bourbon) and I am loving the spicy, savoury flavours and the way it plays well with others in a cocktail. Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re doing an amazing job keeping us entertained and uplifted.

          • Nick

          If you can get China-China, it pairs exceptionally well with rye in a Brooklyn cocktail– perhaps even more so than Amer Picon at its current strength.

    • Mas Ardi Almaidani

    Nice article

    • Anna

    I live in Strasbourg and the locals think it’s Alsatian and you can’t get it in “la France intérieure”!

    • Danielle Johnson

    Many years ago my grandparents used to take the family a day trip in the summer, from Belgium to the north of France, to have a Picon. I miss the Picons au vin blanc and Picon au champagne. Belgium also used to have a very nice amer, it was called, oddly, Amer Suisse.

    • Copyeditor

    As a copyeditor, I feel obliged to point out that the first comment, from a copyeditor, opens with a dangling modifier.


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