Chilies, both fresh and dried, are a powerful tool for providing depth, richness, and heat to Mexican cuisine—and many peppers are two sides of the same chili coin. The chipotle, for instance, is transmogrified through drying and smoking from the brightly spicy jalapeño. The benign poblano—large, green, and mild—when dried becomes the ancho, booming and bold. And ancho, of course, is the star ingredient in Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, a product launched in 2014 though inspired by a recipe hailing from 1927.
Ancho Reyes appeared like a flash and suddenly was ubiquitous. Two years later, Ancho Reyes Verde made a similarly starry entrance, displaying a zingier, more herbal character thanks to a few tweaks in production. For Verde, poblanos are harvested while still green and then fire roasted, as opposed to the late harvest and sun-drying process which fully converts the subtle poblano caterpillar into the vibrant ancho butterfly.
Since the liqueur’s debut, bartenders have had time to explore its possibilities. Some mixing companions are obvious: Just as how food from a particular place tends to pair with its regional wines, the liqueur’s smoky and spicy notes—so familiar from Mexican cuisine—are a natural fit in cocktails with tequila and mezcal. “Ancho Reyes pairs particularly well with its sister agave spirits,” says Amanda Swanson of Fine & Rare in New York City, who riffs on a familiar formula using mezcal, Ancho Reyes, apple cider, and ginger beer to make her Otoño Mule. “The deep, smoky flavor of the peppers in Ancho Reyes plays really well with traditional fall spices, but also adds an element that steers those flavors away from traditional expectations,” Swanson says. “When you bring Ancho Reyes into the fold, the flavor develops in a unique way.”
But the pairing possibilities extend beyond agave. “When Jessica Gonzalez and I did the first Llama Inn menu, we noticed that pisco could go with spice in nontraditional ways,” says Lynnette Marrero, bar director at Llama Inn in Brooklyn. For her Chica en Fuego, Marrero mixes pisco and Ancho Reyes with the richness of crème de cacao and the brightness of pineapple and lemon. “I’m looking at flavors like they do in the kitchen.”
For a cocktail with Ancho Reyes Verde, Lauren Paylor O’Brien, owner of LPDrinks in Washington, D.C., began working from a base inspired by her favorite dessert: Bananas Foster. The liqueur amplifies tequila’s vegetal, herbaceous qualities, with mole bitters accenting the spice and providing a chocolate note to pair with banana liqueur. “I’m a sucker for anything that incorporates chocolate and banana, and has a little bite,” she says.
1 1/2 oz. mezcal (Swanson uses Montelobos Espadín)
1 oz. Ancho Reyes
1 oz. apple cider
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. agave syrup (1:1 ratio of agave nectar and water)
Chilled ginger beer
Glass: Mule mug
Garnish: apple slices
Add the first 5 ingredients to an ice-filled mug and top with ginger beer, then garnish.
Amanda Swanson, Fine & Rare, New York City
Chica en Fuego
1 1/2 oz. pisco (Marrero uses Macchu Pisco La Diablada)
3/4 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 oz. crème de cacao
1/2 oz. Ancho Reyes
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
Tools: shaker, strainer
Garnish: shaved dark chocolate
Shake all of the ingredients with 2 ice cubes, strain into a glass filled with crushed ice, then garnish.
Lynnette Marrero, Llama Inn, Brooklyn
1 1/2 oz. blanco tequila
3/4 oz. banana liqueur (Paylor uses Giffard)
1/2 oz. heavy cream
1/2 oz. Ancho Reyes Verde
2 drops mole bitters (Paylor uses Bittermens)
Tools: shaker, strainer, fine strainer
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: grated chocolate
Shake all of the ingredients with ice, then strain and shake again, without ice, until foamy. Double strain into a chilled glass, then garnish.
Lauren Paylor O’Brien, LPDrinks, Washington, D.C.