I have to admit that I don’t know too much about this drink so let’s engage in a little detective work. I wrote this recipe down quite a while ago from something I read on one of those early internet cocktail databases but the sole mention of it I can find these days is a very spartan entry on CocktailDB. And it isn’t even the same recipe that I have. But all is not lost as we can glean some clues from the cocktail’s name. It turns out Molly Picon was a Polish/American actress so the fact that this drink is named after her should give us an idea of when the drink was created. Pity her career spanned nine decades then. Well at least we know this drink was created between 1904 and 1984 – although if I had to guess I’d say it would be somewhere between her two biggest movie roles; Yiddle with his Fiddle (1936) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971) [I promise I’m not making this up]. It doesn’t look much like a Dark Ages recipe so that narrows it down to “probably” the 1940s-50s. On examination of the recipe – equal parts of gin, sweet vermouth and Amer Picon – we can see a very close similarity to a Negroni as well as the reason for the name of the cocktail. But we’re not going any further without a discussion on the nature of Amer Picon…
Amer Picon is a French bitter liqueur in a similar stylee to those great Italian amari the most famous of which is Campari. Picon has strong notes of burnt orange and gentian making it Campari’s long lost French sibling (although they’re definitely not twins). Word has it that the French like to splash a little in their beer or wine to tart it up – and I can confirm that this is indeed a worthwhile endeavour. Wikipedia suggests there are two varieties of Amer Picon but in fact there are three or four. To save you the trouble I’ve tried most of them and promise you that the one you want is the one pictured above and bottled at 21%. Which brings us to the first of Amer Picon’s issues. You see Picon used to be a viscous 39% powerhouse and since the 70s has been somewhat debased down to the 18-21% offerings on sale today. Which brings us to Picon’s second problem. Regretably Picon is not sold very far afield of its home nation [hint to European types: if you want to ingratiate yourself with an American cocktailian bring them a bottle of Picon]. The Picon desert that is the USA has attempted two solutions to the above problems, the lesser of which is called Torani Amer (which I’ve not tried but according to the word on the street is a bit meh) and Amer Boudreau. The latter is a home-made version of the original Amer Picon by Seattle startender Jamie Boudreau. Of course I have my own version of Jamie’s version of the original version of Amer Picon but we’re so far down the rabbit hole at this point that I think we should just stop. Check out the Amer Boudreau story (complete with a great cocktail recipe) if you like but otherwise rest assured that the black label 21% Amer Picon remains pretty damn tasty (if a little thin) and should be your #1 shopping list item if visiting France or its closest neighbours.
Molly Picon (Slight Return).
While some drinks need the gusteau of Amer Boudreau, thankfully the Molly Picon isn’t one of them (although it certainly wouldn’t do it any harm) and can be satisfactorially formulated with off-the-shelf Amer Picon black label. It’s a very nice little drink that I’d really, really like to save from extinction so here’s my best guess version of what the Molly Picon should be.
1oz / 30ml gin of choice.
1oz / 30ml Amer Picon (or Amer Boudreau).
1oz / 30ml Punt e Mes (or another sweet vermouth).
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupé – or, ideally, a chilled Nick & Nora glass as pictured.
Garnish with a lemon twist.
Toast Molly Picon (1898-1992).