There seems to be at least another one, too. After returning from a trip to Paris, a beer-savvy friend quickly e-mailed about a drink he and his wife really enjoyed there, something brand new to them, Bière Picon. It’s something I had also never heard about – neither had any of the very knowledgeable local bar operators I soon asked – I was very intrigued to investigate given my friend’s enthusiasm and, more so, after learning it was a beer cocktail featuring a French version of bitters. As my tastes have embraced more bitter flavors as I have matured, like a good portion of the country’s imbibing public in the past decade, and buttressed by a number of trips to Italy, I had become a fan of bitters, at least the Italian version, amaro that is usually consumed as a digestivo.
I found a recipe for Bière Picon (or Picon Bière as they call it) from the online drinks magazine Punch that is essentially:
Amer Picon – 3/4 ounce
Pilsner beer – 5 to 6 ounces
Ice – A few cubes
Orange slice for garnish
Pour the beer and Amer Pico into Collins glass over a handful of ice cubes and garnish with the orange slice.
Unfortunately, Amer Picon, the French spirit that makes a mixture a Bière Picon, is not sold in America. This is quite odd given the explosion in the range of spirits in the past decade and that Amer Picon is owned by the beverage behemoth Diageo. Though Amer Picon is not available, there is a fine substitute according to liquor and cocktail historian David Wondrich, which is widely available, the Italian amaro CioCiaro. The unusual name refers to the region where it is made in the province of Lazio, about 100 miles southeast of Rome that takes its name from the distinctive sandals long worn by its inhabitants. Milder and smoother than most yet more flavorful, it’s also one of my favorite amaros.
Using CioCiaro, the best ratio I have found is one part of that to eight to ten parts of a well-made light- or medium-bodied lager like a fresh-enough Czech pilsner or a Munich Helles beer. Karbach’s Love Street, which tastes like a lighter version of a traditional Helles, can work well, too. Belgian-style white beer like Celis White does a very good job, too, for different, more citrusy taste. Ice is silly with this, and a garnish doesn’t fit into the mold of a beer cocktail as something unfussy and to be concocted with a minimal amount of effort. Here is my version ready for state-side consumption:
Birra CioCiaro [BEER-ah cho-CHAR-oh]
Amaro CioCiaro – 1 ounce
Helles, pilsner or Kolsch-style beer – 8 ounces
Pour in a pint glass. Stir a few times to combine amaro and beer. It should then drink quickly. It did for me, and maybe too quickly. The concoction was certainly beer-like, but it did not taste like the Czech pilsner it was made with. The Saaz hop characteristics of the beer were muted, but the drink was still slightly bitter, and had a touch of sweetness from the CioCiaro.
This works well as an aperitif, though I’ve found that one was very enjoyable, but sufficient for my palate.