What is Amer Picon?

How to Find the Elusive Aperitif

Bottles of Picon Biere
The Picon labels are very distinct. Amer Picon bottles are very similar to the Picon Biere seen here. 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. will not be able to find it on liquor store shelves and 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. You may even want to make your own version of the spirit.

Before we get 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 dates back to 1837. Orange is the dominant flavor, though quinine, cinchona, and genetian are also known ingredients. 

In the 1970s, it was transformed into a weaker form and reduced from 39 percent alcohol by volume 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 remains impressive.

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 now outside of France and Europe, this leaves aficionados who want to recreate those drinks looking for alternatives.

Quick Facts About Amer

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 is 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.

One reader mentions finding it in travels to Tokyo. 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.

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

Exploring Your Alternatives

This is such a great ingredient for classic cocktails and everyone wants it but cannot get it. What can you do?

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.

These are our options and we've already talked about the extremely limited availability, so let's discuss the alternatives.

Make Your Own Amer Picon

Attempts have been made at creating an in-house reproduction 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 SpiritsandCocktails.com.

Commercial Substitutes for Amer Picon

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 either formula of Amer Picon will notice the difference.

No 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, easier to find, and commonly used.
  • Amaro CioCiaro - A recommended substitute for Amer Picon that is produced in Italy.
  • Ramazotti 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.