It is made from a base of fresh oranges which are dried and mixed with a solution of alcohol which is distilled. Picon also contains gentian and quinquina in equal measures. Sugar, syrup and caramel are added last.
Gaétan Picon, born in 1809, was a scholar who had an apprenticeship at the distillery of Aix-en-Provence, Toulon and Marseille. In 1837, after taking a trip to Algeria where he had been in the French Army, he invented Picon. The aperitif was placed in the category of bitters and was 39% ABV.
In 1862 the French government invited industry to take part in the Universal Exhibition in London. Jean-Baptiste Nouvion, the sub-prefect of Philippeville, urged Gaëtan Picon to bring his aperitif to the exhibition. But, failing to convince the manufacturer to take part, the sub-prefect stubbornly took it upon himself (without telling Mr. Picon) to ship a case of African Amer to London · . The product ended up crowned with a bronze medal in the bitter apperitif category, greatly adding to Gaëtan Picon's eventual fortune.
In 1872, Gaétan Picon returned to France, creating the first factory for the production of Picon in Marseille (still in use today). In 1937, the company published a book called Histoire d'un Siècle Picon (1837–1937); the company 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").The slogan involves a common pun in French.
Since 1995 Picon has diversified, and now makes two different aperitifs:
- The original Picon bière, which accompanies beer.
- Picon club, to drink in cocktails with dry white wine.
In the 1970s, the strength of Picon was reduced to 25% ABV. In 1989, it was reduced yet again to 18% ABV.
In 2003 the drink was mainly sold (70%) in the north and east of France. The total production was 4 million bottles.
The Picon Punch is a mixed drink featuring Amer Picon (or another Amer substitute), created by Basque immigrants in the United States. It is primarily served in American Basque regions such as Boise, Idaho; Bakersfield, California; and throughout Northern Nevada.
The unavailability of Picon in America has led to two drinks regularly used as substitutes: Torani Amer (available primarily in California) and Amer Boudreau, a DIY drink created by Seattle-based mixologist, bartender and author Jamie Boudreau to the specifications of the pre-1970 recipe for Picon.
- Halley, Ned (2005). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Drink An A-Z of Alcoholic Beverages. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. p. 35. ISBN 1-84022-302-2.
- Journal "L'Illustration" du 24 mai 1930 – histoire de l’apéritif amer Picon ou amer algérien
- Clade, Jean-Louis; Jollès, Charles (2006). La Gentiane: l'aventure de la fée jaune (in French). Yens-sur-Morges (Suisse): Cabédita. p. 101. ISBN 2-88295-461-1.