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Entries in Amer Picon (1)

Monday
Dec062010

The Battle of Brooklyn

It is one of those blissful nights - you know, the one where you're sidled up to the bar (in this case Comstock in San Francisco), designated driver at your side.  After three or four rounds, you're in the mood to be wowed by the barkeep.  So you ask him to make you a dealer's choice - whiskey please.  After a brief consideration he offers up a Brooklyn cocktail.  If you're not already hooked on the alchemy of cocktail mixology (and the delights of sitting and drinking cocktails), you are now...

The Brooklyn cocktail that I had that night was a complex little drink.  It started out with a spicy little slap in the face of rye, but followed up with the oily slickness of dry vermouth (there was some discussion between bartenders about the virtues of sherry and dry vermouth) and ended with a little bitter/sweet from the amaro. This is not a cocktail for everyone - it lives on the fringes of today's American cocktail tastes.  But this is my kind of cocktail, and its certainly worth a try for any fan of rye whiskey.

I knew of the Brooklyn from cocktail folklore.  Mainly, I knew that the original recipe included Amer Picon - which has been somewhat of an obsession for me for quite a while now.  Amer Picon is no longer sold in America, and is apparently will not be distributed in the States anytime soon.  But the old-school cocktail books extoll the virtues of Picon and its ability to make a cocktail sing.  

So the next step was clear - I decided to compare a Brooklyn cocktail with Amer Picon to the version made by Mr. Raglin at Comstock. 

Lets take a second to consider what Amer Picon is.  Amer Picon is a orange-flavored French bitter aperitif that is consumed today mainly by old alsatian men as - strangely enough - a mixer in their belgian white beer.  Having tried it in France, suffice to say that Picon deserves a better fate than as some old man's witshandy...   It USED TO BE used as an addition to whiskey-based drinks back in the Prohibition era. This has made it a bit of a holy grail amongst mixology geeks.  Jamie Boudreau of Spirits and Cocktails has posted an Amer Picon-like recipe to let the rest of us approximate this fine spirit.  Yes, I made a couple of bottles - and yes, that qualifies me as a mixology geek.

As it happens, I had just been to France (Mrs. The Ace thinks that we were there on holiday) and had brought back a few bottles of the stuff. The only problem is that the Picon recipe has changed in the past 20 years, removing the quinine which gave the liqueur of much of its former bitter flavoring.  I tried getting around this little issue by using the current Picon recipe plus 2-3 dashes of Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 to add back some of the bitter flavoring.   

So we'll start with an adapted Brooklyn cocktail with Amer Picon from the Savoy Cocktail Book - kind of the "old school" way of making this drink.  

Brooklyn Cocktail (Picon version)
Adapted from The Savoy Cocktail Book 

1 1/2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1/2 dry vermouth (I used Sutton Cellars' brown label vermouth which is excellent)
1/4 oz. Maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz. Amer Picon
2-3 dashes of Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6 

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled up glass and serve.  

This version was fine - but frankly was a little disappointing.  I WANTED to like the way that the Picon and the rye interact. But the real problem here is that Picon has now become a bit too sweet for this drink.  In addition, the whiskey-Picon mixture pushes the vermouth to the back of the bus.  Blast that recipe change!

On to the Comstock version...

Paul Clarke over at Cocktail Chronicles just ran a great post profiling Jonny Raglin's Brooklyn recipe (yes, the one that I drank at the beginning of this post) and the secret Amer Picon substitute for his Brooklyn adaptation.  Its Bonal Gentiane-Quina, a wine that includes two bitter agents - quinine (yes, THAT quinine) and gentian (a flower root used in many bitters). Well, I guess I will chalk that up as a good reason to keep blogging - perhaps someday The Ace will be able to get those kinds of scoops for himself!  Nevertheless - Bonal Gentiane-Quina just hit the shelves in the Bay Area. Thanks again Haus Alpenz!  So lets try this version, from Cocktail Chronicles' post.

Brooklyn Cocktail (Comstock Version)
Jonny Raglin - courtesy of Paul Clarke and Cocktail Chronicles

 2 oz. Rye Whiskey
3/4 oz. dry vermouth or sherry 
1/4 oz. Bonal Gentiane-Quina
1/4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
Twist of orange for garnish

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled up glass and serve.

 So we have our clear winner here.  Hats off to Jonny for plugging in the Bonal with a little orange bitters to give the drink back its citrusy quality. Note that I again used the Sutton Cellars vermouth here in the place of the sherry, and it was still quite a beautiful drink.  

Perhaps someday we will get the old version of Amer Picon on liquor shelves once again.  Perhaps Mr. Seed at Haus Alpenz is already on the case???  But in the meantime i must say that the Brooklyn cocktail works beautifully with a simple and elegant workaround spirit.  And yes, K&L Liquors (see my Find a Bottle page) has Bonal in stock.