One of these legislative sessions, someone in state government will get around to signing the proposed bill that will make the Picon Punch the official cocktail of Nevada. And no one will be more thrilled than the folks at Louis’ Basque Corner on the corner of Fourth Street and Evans Avenue in Reno. Southern Nevada operates more on Red Bull and vodka than this antique tipple, but history is what has made it so popular in the heavily Basque-settled northwest corner of our state.
First off, despite being pronounced like the word “pecan” (the “PEE-kahn” version, not “pee-CAN”), there is no trace of that nut in this drink. Rather, Picon refers to a venerable brand of French amer (a bitter, similar to the Italian amaro), from which the drink takes its name. Although Picon brand amer is a little tricky to find these days, Torani Amer is readily available, or you can even make your own.
To prepare the cocktail, fill a 5-ounce Picon Punch glass (a.k.a. an Irish coffee glass, if you’ve ever been to San Francisco’s Buena Vista Cafe) with ice. Add 2 ounces of amer and a splash of grenadine (or pomegranate syrup). Top with club soda, stir and “bless it” with a float of ¼ to ½ ounce brandy (patriarch Louis Erreguible’s choice is Korbel; he’s French Basque—go figure). Express the oils from a narrow swath of lemon rind on top, drag it around the rim and drop it into the glass.
As Jack Lyon, the bartender at Louis’, will tell you about drinking Picon Punches, “It’s like breasts: One is not enough, but three is too many.” Approach with caution and reverence. Topa!