Everybody needs a little spice in their lives, whether it be a squirt of Cholula on a taco, or a generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes on a pizza. This also applies to cocktails, from spicy margaritas to fiery bloody marys — and even in cocktails that aren’t traditionally spicy. These days, one need not reach for pepper flakes or sauces to spice up those cocktails, because there’s Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, which provides a little heat in every bottle. It’s not a vodka or gin merely infused with habanero peppers, but rather a cordial that is directly derived from chile peppers themselves. And that makes a big difference.
What Is Ancho Reyes?
Ancho Reyes is an award-winning liquor made from chile peppers that comes in two varieties: the original, derived from ancho chiles, and Verde, from green poblano chiles. Not only do both pack a punch of 80 proof, but they also give a kick of heat. ((t won’t singe your taste buds or anything; the spice level lands somewhere in the ballpark between the milder green version of Tabasco sauce and Sriracha)
The concoction is inspired by an old recipe from families living in Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico, in the 1920s, which was resurrected almost 90 years later by Mexican master distiller Dr. Iván Saldaña Oyarzábal. The efforts of his team have perfected a way to distill and bottle the liqueur and today, it’s imported and distributed by the Campari group—for you to enjoy.
The beauty of Ancho Reyes is more than the heat or the buzz; there is also a definite flavor in each of its two variations. The spirit is named after the ancho chile pepper, which is the red, ripened state of the otherwise green poblano pepper — both widely used in Mexican cuisine. Ancho Reyes embraces the two individual flavor profiles coming from both stages of the same pepper, in two products: the original ancho chile liqueur, and Ancho Reyes Verde, the licor de chile poblano.
Ancho Reyes Verde delivers the zing and taste of a young poblano pepper. It’s crisp, yet earthy, like its cousin, the green bell pepper, but with about 1,000 more points on the Scoville Scale, which charts the spiciness of chile peppers. The poblanos used in Ancho Reyes Verde are hand-picked after growing to their green glory in the fields of Puebla’s volcanic soil. Some of the peppers remain fresh; some are fire-roasted to unlock their bright, tropical notes and lend them just a hint of caramelized smokiness.
The ancho chile peppers of the original Ancho Reyes are the same peppers, harvested months later after they’ve matured to a deep red color. The chiles are then sun-dried for 15–20 days, which develops their flavor even further, as in the case of sun-dried tomatoes. The result of this maturity and sun exposure is a complex, malty sweetness with a deep, lingering smokiness, and notes of deep cocoa and cinnamon, plus a hint of tamarind. It’s this flavor profile that brings richness to some Mexican fare, like birria consomme and mole sauce.
Whether the peppers are young, bright, and fire-roasted, or matured and sun-dried, they are macerated, then soaked in small vats of a neutral cane spirit for six months. After fermentation and distillation, they ultimately become bottled as the two varieties of Ancho Reyes: a bronze liquor for those who like the heat and flavor of ancho chiles with deep smokiness and a velvety texture, and an amber spirit for those whose palate is not smoke-inclined but leans towards the crispy earthiness of a poblano pepper.
So, How Do I Use Ancho Reyes in Cocktails?
Whatever your preference, both flavor profiles can add spice to some classic cocktails. Ancho Reyes’s suggested recipes call for the original ancho variety to be the base spirit in mules, palomas, and daiquiris, while suggestions for the verde variety are for margaritas, gimlets, and maria verdes (a green version of a Bloody Maria). However, it’s all up to you and your own tastes; if you want a smoke-forward green Bloody Maria or margarita, reach for that original ancho rendition.
Both Ancho Reyes expressions can also be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, for the purest form of this celebration of the chile variety. While some may prefer the zing of the younger licor de chile poblano straight up, others will appreciate a certain wisdom: that sweetness comes with maturity. As you sip the original Ancho Reyes, you can relax and ponder how that wisdom can be applied to you as well.