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Elements: Ancho Reyes

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 bartender Amanda Swanson, who riffs on a familiar formula using mezcal, Ancho Reyes, apple cider, and ginger beer to make her Otoño Mule for Fine & Rare in New York City. “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. For Brooklyn bartender Lynnette Marrero’s Chica en Fuego, Marrero mixes pisco and Ancho Reyes with the richness of crème de cacao and the brightness of pineapple and lemon. 

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. 

Otoño Mule

This simple riff matches the spice of Ancho Reyes to mezcal’s earthiness and ginger’s brightness.

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 for Fine & Rare, New York City

Chica en Fuego

Pisco’s lively aroma pairs beautifully with the spice and depth of Ancho Reyes and crème de cacao.

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
Glass: rocks
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, Brooklyn

Mama Rabbit

This dessert-like drink is given an herbaceous lift via Ancho Reyes Verde.

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.

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