Sirop de Picon

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Bottle of 21% ABV Picon Bière

Picon is a caramel-coloured, flavoured bitters[1] drunk as an apéritif, which traditionally accompanies beer in the east and north of France.

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 bitter and was 39% ABV.

At the time, Gaétan Picon had created the first distillery to produce African bitters in an Algerian village, he then went on to create a number of other distilleries: Constantine, Bône and Algiers.

In 1862 took place the Universal Exhibition in London. The French government invited the industry to take part. The sub-prefect of Philippeville, Jean-Baptiste Nouvion, did not fail to urge Gaëtan Picon in this direction. These events are not yet entered in the manners, he turned a deaf ear. Seeing this, the sub-prefect stubborn, took it upon himself, without telling it to the manufacturer, to ship a case of African Amer in London[2] · .

The product, then belonging to appetizers category Bitter (bitter), is crowned with a bronze medal at the Universal Exhibition of London in 1862, which will make Gaëtan Picon's 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.[3]


Since 1995 Picon has diversified, and now makes two different aperitifs:

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.


  1. ^ Halley, Ned (2005). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Drink An A-Z of Alcoholic Beverages. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. p. 35. ISBN 1-84022-302-2. 
  2. ^ Journal "L'Illustration" du 24 mai 1930 – histoire de l’apéritif amer Picon ou amer algérien
  3. ^ 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.