These Bitters Won’t Leave Me Alone! But that’s a good thing: Bigallet China-China
People who know me usually get tired of my whining about Bière Picon. You see, with all my travels to France I eagerly anticipate one of the most satisfying Gallic rituals, that of a tall bière pression (tap), preferably a Belgian ale, with a hefty shot of Amer Picon, a delicious French bitter-orange amer.
Unfortunately, Amer Picon is not exported to the United States or Canada. Why? I do not know. I’ve heard allusion and references that indicate the company simply is not interested and won’t consider it, which is a shame because American bartenders would be all over it were it available.
That means I am at the mercy of friendly bartenders who get Picon hand-carried by sympathetic travelers; one un-named friendly bartender (rhymes with Renault, but is more reliable) usually has some on hand to quench my bitter thirst.
Another option is the various and sundry versions made from scratch, such as the fine alternative by Jamie Boudreaux, or the tasty steroidal version devised by Daniel Shoemaker at The Teardrop Lounge with the delightful touch of Sicilian blood oranges. And finally, I can pursue other amer/amari that approximate the experience, although that is a more difficult pursuit than you might imagine.
“Balance is everything, tiding out time, riding out rhyme.”
Tom Stoppard, ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’
Other brands tend to be too sweet or overly bitter, too herbal or too candied; it is difficult to find the Goldilocks’ version.
Jordan Felix, Bar Manager at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, that leather-and mahogany temple of spiritual bliss, recently turned me on to an amer that may solve my problem and satisfy my need: Bigallet China-China Amer. Jordan posted on Facebook that he had found the best alternative yet to Picon with Bigallet. So I went to MWL, and tasted. The man was onto something, so I searched and found some bottles at the Westmoreland Liquor Store (Sellwood), a very well-stocked retail outlet with a surprisingly sound selection.
While Belgian pression is not all that widely available around Portland, you can easily find Leffe and Duvel in bottle. I prefer Duvel, by itself and with the Picon, so I tried the Duvel-Bigallet combination.
The verdict? While it’s not quite like being in France (but what would be), it is impressively good in Portland on a stifling hot day.
Bigallet China-China Amer
What does it taste like? A nicely balanced sweet and bitter orange zest at base, with variations of English marmalade, liquorice, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice/clove, caramel, mint and strong black tea weaving their way in and out. The classic bittering agents—cinchona and gentian—are there, but there’s an additional touch of absinthium as well (I suspect the same type of absinthium that flavors genepi).
It is a lovely tightrope walk of an amer, neither too sweet nor too bitter, intense, dazzling in its complexity, excellent and satisfying as an aperitif or a digestif, and quite nice in a bottle of Duvel.
Bigallet is located in Isère in the French Alps. Established in 1872, it is now owned by the Giffard company, which produces an estimable line of delicious flavored spirits most of which are available in the Pacific Northwest.
Since I can’t be with the one I love (Picon), I’ll have to love the one I’m with. And I love the Bigallet big-time. I wouldn’t want to hurt Picon’s feelings, but Bigallet, you may be more satisfying. You’re certainly more available.
As Rick said to Louie, “This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”