Picon Bière Bitters Review

With over 4 million bottles produced a year, Picon is widely celebrated in France. In this review, you will discover Picon Bière as I cover the following topics:

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Drink Overview

  • Distillery: Picon
  • Expression: Picon Bière
  • Variety: Bitters
  • Region: Marseille, France
  • Age: NAS
  • Casking: N/A
  • Cask Strength: 18% ABV
  • Pricing: $25
  • Parent: LVMH & Diageo

What Is Picon Bière?

Gaétan Picon was stationed in Algeria when he served as part of the French army in 1837. It was there and then that he invented Picon, which he referred to as an “African Amer” at the time. It was largely inspired by quinquina, a fortified wine that was flavoured with quinine, which was supplied to troops to combat against malaria.

Picon Bière Bitters Sky Background

Picon combines gentian and quinine with orange peels, which is steeped in a grain spirit. It was first produced in Algeria and in 1862, it was presented at the London Universal Exhibition albeit without Gaétan’s knowledge. It ended up being extremely successful and won a bronze award.

In 1872, Gaétan eventually returned to France, where he started its production in Marseille. A second version called Picon Club was soon launched. Furthermore, its strength has also been reduced since it was first created and now stands at 18% ABV. Today, it is jointly owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) and Diageo.

Interestingly, Picon is hard to find in the USA but was quite popular in certain places like Idaho. Therefore, there have been some local variants that were created to fill the void.

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Picon Bière’s Robe

Picon Bière Bitters In Glass

  • Hue: Molasses
  • Clarity: Slightly Clear
  • Viscosity: Luscious

First of all, we have a very dark, almost molasses coloured syrupy liquid. It has a slight haziness but you do get nice reflections of light through the glass. It’s thick, syrupy, and oily.

Furthermore, it does actually have some decent legs on it. They are quite slow but thin.

Picon Bière’s Nose

  • Notes: Orange Peel, Red Wine, Allspice
  • Nosefeel: Warming

Picon is very warming and quite oily on the nose. Its aromas are dominated by orange peel. There’s a vinous red wine aspect while allspice adds a little prickliness to the overall bouquet. It’s quite rich while not being overly intense. It has some nuance, but it’s not too complex either.

Picon Bière’s Palate & Mouthfeel

Picon Bière Bitters Bottle & Glass

  • Primary Taste: Bitter
  • Mouthfeel: Oily
  • Opening:  Orange Peel, Red Wine, Lemon
  • Heart: Anise, Nutmeg, Grapefruit
  • Finish: Medium [Gentian, Quinine, Caramel]

As the name suggests, Picon Bière is typically enjoyed like a Shandy. A dash of Picon is poured into a large glass and topped up with beer. However, I will be trying it neat for this review.

Overall, it delivers a bitter primary flavour. The mouthfeel is very oily, much like the nose. It opens with orange peel, the same vinous red wine as earlier, and a zesty hint of lemon. In turn, the heart is quite spicy. It reveals nutmeg and bitter grapefruit citrus.

Once at the finish, the bitterness really crescendos and takes its place right in the centre of the palate. Expect a combination of gentian and quinine that are softened by a hint of smooth caramel to round it off.

It’s not too complex and quite approachable. If you don’t like bitter flavours like black coffee, Picon may not be for you. That being said, it’s not quite as overt when mixed with beer. The texture is very smooth and heavy on the palate. Although not particularly mature, you feel that time has been taken to produce it. There is some depth in the flavour.

Despite a heavily bitter profile, its harmony is balanced. Meanwhile, its finish lingers nicely across the palate.

How To Drink Picon Bière

Picon Bière & Stella Artois

As we always say in our reviews, drink a beverage the way you enjoy it! Nevertheless, if you’re not familiar with Picon Bière, I’ll happily give you a few ideas. As mentioned earlier, Picon Bière is often served in beer like a shandy. Indeed, it’s what it was made for!

That being said, I often enjoy it neat. In fact, I’ve attended a few family dinners where it was served in a small glass as a digestif. It’ll be quite potent, but it’s a pleasant drink. Otherwise, it can also be enjoyed as part of a cocktail. There are some famous ones but Picon is often overlooked.

Picon Bière Cocktail Suggestions

Picon Bière & Cigar

Here are a few Picon cocktails that we suggest you try:

  1. Picon & Beer
  2. Picon Punch
  3. French Negroni
  4. Chasseur
  5. Pikawa

Of course, the top one is going to be Picon and beer as that’s how it was made to be enjoyed. However, there are a few other choices. Firstly, the Picon Punch is probably the best-known Picon cocktail in the USA. It’s particularly famous in Idaho and consists of cognac, lemon, soda, and grenadine with Picon.

Meanwhile, you can also try a “Picon Chasseur”, which means “Hunter”. It combines Picon with beer, white wine, and apple syrup. On a related note, Picon Club is typically mixed with white wine rather than Picon Bière.

Finally, consider also using Picon instead of Campari in a few cocktail recipes. For instance, it can be used to make a French Negroni, which replaces the Campari with Picon and features cognac instead of gin.

Best Pairings With Picon Bière

Picon Bière Bitters & Plasencia Plasencia Alma del Fuego

Consider pairing Picon with things like a game stew or a filet mignon. In fact, you can even cook with it if you wanted! Since it’s often consumed as an apéritif, consider other pairings like nuts, potato chips, and similar.

Of course, we love cigars at Bespoke Unit. As such, we have a few suggestions. For instance, a Plasencia Alma del Fuego will be a spicy and full-bodied spicy cigar. It’s best served if you enjoy having the Picon neat. Otherwise, if you’re having Picon with beer, consider a milder spicy cigar like the Oliva Serie V Melanio.

Overall Experience & Value For Money

Picon Bière Bitters & Cigar

The bottle has a very classic design and while not overly elegant, it reflects the brand well. Meanwhile, the Picon brand is pressed into the base of the bottle. Furthermore, the bottleneck is adorned with the various prizes that it won throughout the 19th century.

You’ll notice that the label is wrinkled on this particular bottle that appears in the photos. Indeed, it’s admittedly a little cheap but then again, it’s not overly expensive either.

Speaking of which, expect to pay around $25 in the USA if you can find it. After all, it’s quite challenging. If you live in an area with an old Basque or French heritage, you may find it. Meanwhile, it’s very cheap in Europe and especially France. Here, it costs just $9 for a 1-litre bottle.

It’s not a particularly luxurious drink. In fact, it’s typically enjoyed by the working-class crowd in a brasserie or a café. However, as I mentioned earlier, it may be enjoyed by families after a meal. Otherwise, don’t expect to see it at black-tie events!

Closing Thoughts

Picon Bière has a loyal following in France. While it may be occasionally regarded as old-fashioned or has-been, it’s still quite popular. Overseas, its presence is a little limited. However, you may be lucky and find a bottle. It’s inexpensive so if you do, be sure to grab one!

"A French classic that you must sample at some point!"
Bespoke Unit Rating: ★★★★

Further Reading

Once you’ve finished reading our review, feel free to peruse our wide range of related content such as the following resources:

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