Jaialdi libations: Take a sip of Basque culture

Basque immigrants brought a plethora of food and drink from their homeland to the United States, but one popular Basque cocktail originated in the American West and was exported to the mother country. In the early 1900s, Basque immigrants in California concocted Picon Punch — grenadine, brandy and Amer Picon, a bitter French aperitif made with herbs and burnt orange peel. The drink, which gained nationwide appeal, fell into obscurity when the essential ingredient, Amer Picon, was no longer available in the United States.

Even if you can find a bottle, it will not be the good stuff. About 40 years ago the manufacturer altered the taste when it changed the recipe and cut the alcohol content from 78 proof to 42 proof.

A renewed interest in vintage cocktails has led to the rediscovery of Amer Picon and Picon Punch. In the last decade, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic Monthly have paid homage to the “Basque cocktail.”

Amer Picon is still not available in the United States, but cocktail aficionados can use the American-made substitute, Torani Amer, which is similar in taste and alcohol content to the original version .

Picon Punch

1 teaspoon grenadine

2 ounces Amer Picon (or substitute Torani Amer)

Club soda

1 ounce brandy

Lemon or orange peel garnish

Fill a tall glass with ice. Add grenadine and Amer Picon. Top with club soda, stir gently and float the brandy on top. (Variation: Skip the club soda and layer the grenadine, Amer and brandy over ice. Rub the rim of the glass with the lemon peel before tossing it in.)

Not feeling adventurous enough to make your own Picon Punch? The Basque Center bar will be serving it up during Jaialdi.


Easier to make than say

First the hard part: The Basque sound “tx” is pronounced like “ch,” so say kah-lee-mo-cho.

Now the easy part: The iconic, refreshing Basque cocktail is made with equal parts red wine and cola served over ice.

The drink has an interesting history. Tradition says that it was born in 1972 in the town of Getxo, near Bilbao, when a group of people thought the wine for their festival had turned a little, so they mixed it with Coke.

“It’s very popular in the Basque Country. In many bars there is a special spigot that pours the two simultaneously,” said Jaialdi co-organizer Rod Wray. “Don’t knock it until you try it.”