This Basque-inspired drink delivers sparkling flavor
As summer wanes, we’re looking for drinks that can ease us into autumn.
Enter the Picon Punch, an afternoon cooler that works equally well as a predinner drink. Its flavor is bracing, with lively orange undertones.
The Picon Punch is not a particularly well-known drink, which makes it a fun choice for introducing to friends.
Because that’s what friends do.
Recipe: The Picon Punch Cocktail
The Picon Punch probably originated with the Basque immigrant population in the US (more on that in the Notes). It combines Amer Picon liqueur, grenadine, and sparkling water, then tops it with a brandy float
Punches that include alcohol almost always incorporate fruit juice – so technically this isn’t a “punch.” But what’s in a name?
Our favorite recipe for this drink is from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to make and serves 1.
- 2½ ounces Amer Picon (or substitute; see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon grenadine (preferably homemade), or more to taste
- sparkling water to taste (we suggest 1½ to 3 ounces; see Notes)
- ½ ounce brandy or cognac float (you can skip this, but it does add flavor)
- garnish of a lemon or orange twist or peel (optional; lemon is more popular, but we like orange)
- Build this cocktail in a serving glass: Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add the Amer Picon and grenadine, then top with sparkling water.
- Stir briefly to mix, then add the brandy float. Garnish, if you wish, and serve.
- You could use crushed ice for this drink, though we generally just use regular ice cubes.
- What serving glass to use for this drink? We like a rocks-style glass, but a tall glass works too. You might sometimes see this cocktail served in a stemmed goblet.
- How much sparkling water to use? Really, that’s up to you. We recommend starting with 1½ ounces, then adding more if your taste buds demand it. We’ve seen recipes that add as much as 4 ounces of sparkling water. Too much, we think, but that might suit you.
- Grenadine is a mix of pomegranate juice and sugar. Sometimes it also contains orange blossom water and/or pomegranate molasses. It’s easy to make your own – see our recipe for Homemade Grenadine. Most of the commercial stuff is just colored sugar water that also contains a bunch of chemicals.
- How much grenadine to use? It depends on how sweet you prefer the drink to be. We suggest starting with a teaspoon, then adding more if you like.
- Amer Picon is a French liqueur with bitter (but seductive) flavor. It was unavailable in the US for many years. Amer Picon is back on the US market now, although with a different formula (so the flavor isn’t the same as the original).
- It’s still hard to find Amer Picon in the US, but there are some good substitutes available. We like Bigallet China-China Amer. In the western US, Torani Amer is widely available. For a more detailed discussion of Amer Picon, see our post on the Brooklyn Cocktail.
- Our recipe specifies 2½ ounces of Amer Picon (or substitute), which is a substantial amount. Some recipes call for less – about 1½ ounces. We don’t think the flavor is quite as good with the lesser amount, but you may disagree.
- The Picon Punch most likely originated in San Francisco during the 19th century, probably created by Basque immigrants to the US. It’s a very popular drink among Basque communities in the US – particularly in central California, but also in Nevada and Idaho. We first learned about this drink years ago on a visit to Louis’ Basque Corner restaurant in Reno, Nevada.
- This drink is so popular among the Basque community in the US that they reportedly have exported it back to the Basque regions of Spain. That’s something we hope to research one of these days.
“I’m basquing in the glory of this drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Smooth but piquant, you might say.”
“Some people pronounce it Pecan Punch,” I said.
“After a couple of these, I can see how you might forget your elocution lessons,” said Mrs K R.
“Of course, being sophisticated myself, I know that in French this would be pronounced Peek-own Punch,” I said.
“You’re trying to punch above your weight,” said Mrs K R. “Is that a good idea?”
Mrs K R pulls no punches.
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What a glorious cocktail! I love the golden colour and gorgeous photos, John.
I love that your cocktails almost always come with a side of mixology history. A great story and a delicious-sounding drink, John!
Hi Angie, you should taste this -- terrific flavor, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Terry, although we certainly enjoy the cocktails, it's the history that got us into drinking them. We used to be winos (still are!) but now we really appreciate mixed drinks. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I used to go to a Basque restaurant in San Francisco, if I ever go back I will order your cocktail. Prost!
Hi Gerlinde, do! You'll like. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a tasty beauty! Excellent photos.
Hi Pam, it's a good one. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Well, I suppose I am going to have to do a Basque themed meal soon. Though, honestly the only Basque food I ever make is Basque cake. Cocktail and cake__now I need to research some entrees and I will be good to go.
BTW We had the rum juleps for our non-beach beach night and they were a huge hit.
Hi Anne, a Basque meal sounds delightful. Glad you enjoyed the rum juleps -- bet you'd like this one, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
"The Basque History of the World" by Mark Kurlansky is a book I've been meaning to reread. I sort of think this drink didn't make it into the book, though. I remember going to a very informal Basque restaurant in San Francsico that had big tables with benches, and served one menu to all comers. I suspect this drink didn't make it into that restaurant either.
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, a lot of Basque restaurants are like that! Although I'd be surprised if a California Basque restaurant didn't serve this drink. Research is needed. :-) Thanks for the comment.
"Because that's what friends do." I just wish you lived closer John!
Hi Abbe, that would be fun! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Great drink for the fall weather
Hi Pat and Dahn, its flavor is really appropriate for this time of the year! :-) Thanks for the comment.
This looks like an amazing drink but what does Amer Picon taste like?
Hi Bernadetter, Amer Picon is a somewhat bitter liqueur flavored with botanicals. Orange is the most notable flavor, but its one of several. Thanks for the comment.
I was just about to ask the same question that Bernadette asked. So a bitter - sweet orange flavor? Sounds interesting and such an easy drink to made. It does sound like the perfect drink to welcome the fall.
Hi MJ, "amer" means "bitter" in French, so it's definitely on the bitter side (adding grenadine sweetens it up). And orange is probably the most distinguishable flavor. Amer Picon is good stuff, as is this drink. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Well if it's half as tasty as it is beautiful it certainly a winner. GREG
Hi Greg, definitely a winner. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I haven't heard of Picon Punch, but oh man it looks terrific! Beautiful colour and flavours, and I love how you played with light, too.
Hi Ben, it's a great drink -- wonderful flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I can't believe that i didnt know about your blog! JUST love it and already followed! I want invite you to visit and follow mine back if you want <3
Hi PMD, welcome! And thanks for your comment.
Your liquor cabinet must be packed with interesting libations from all over the world! The lemon garnish looks beautiful and I just love the colour of this cocktail! Cheers!
Hi Eva, we have way too much stuff in our liquor cabinet. It's fun, though. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I've never had Amer Picon. It sounds intreguing!
Hi Jeff, it's good stuff -- and we've used it for a bunch of cocktails (all the ones we list at the end of the post use it). Thanks for the comment.
Amer Picon is a new one to me. But I love that bitter edge to cocktails. And I adore anything that has to do with Spain. Sounds like I need to make this drink pronto to enjoy. ;)
Hi Carolyn, this is a good one. And since it originated in San Francisco, you should be able to find good local versions. :-) Thanks for the comment.
All of your drinks not only sound worth trying but the beautiful photos only make me want to search out the Amer Picon.
Hi Karen, Amer Picon has a lovely flavor, and this drink really showcases it. Definitely worth seeking out! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Gorgeous!! Your orange "twists" are always impeccable!!! And I bet this tastes as good as it looks.
Hi Liz, this is really a wonderful drink, SO good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Great cocktail! And it IS punch because grenadine is a fruit, right?
Hi David, LOL, right you are about the grenadine! :-) Thanks for the comment.
That orange peel garnish is lovely. I'm going to keep an eye out for Amer Picon. Can't wait to try this!
Hi Lisa, this is an excellent drink -- enjoy! :-) Thanks for the comment.
As usual that looks glorious. First time I heard of Amer Picon though, after googling, I think I would love this one. I love bitter sweet oranges
Hi Raymund, Amer Picon -- or one of the substitutes -- is good stuff. As is this drink. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Thanks for introducing us again to a new drink. Looks like an essential fall drink with bold flavors. Would love that dark rich slow sipping cocktail after a long photo shoot.
Hi Bobbi, you might want to do a long photo shoot just so you could reward yourself with one of these at the end. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Friends always introduce friends to new and exciting cocktails and spirits. I'm glad you introduced me to this one :)
Hi Laura, always happy to introduce friends to new drinks. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Love the presentation. I always learn something new from your cocktail posts!
Hi Debra, this is a wonderful drink -- terrific flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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