The Spicy Liqueur You Should Try Adding To Your Favorite Cocktails

Jazzing up cocktails with a smooth splash of liqueur is nothing new. In fact, it's one of the easiest ways to add intrigue and complexity to an otherwise simple mixed drink. The trick is getting the right mix without overpowering your favorite scotch, rum, or gin, especially when your mixer is a sweet, thick liqueur. Fortunately, there's a smoky new kid on the cocktail block and it's spicing up glasses far from its hometown of Puebla, Mexico.

Typical liqueur flavor profiles range from sassy to sweet, simple to complex, smoky, fruity, floral, bitter, nutty, and most everything in-between. They can certainly stand on their own, but why limit that potential? As explained by Market Watch, liqueurs can transform a single-note drink to multi-dimensional with a quick dash-and-stir, injecting personality while adding texture and depth. 

But when a liqueur carries smoke and spice from roasted, dried chile peppers, you know there's a story lurking in that bottle.

Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur

If any liqueur can be called earthy, it's certainly the Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur and it's younger sibling, the Ancho Reyes Verde. Though the Ancho Reyes brand only emerged in 2014, it digs from much deeper roots, per Old Liquors Magazine. A style of handmade liqueur known as menjurjes informs the Ancho Reyes concoctions, based on a 1920s recipe from the town of Puebla, explains the makers of Ancho Reyes.

In the post-revolution cantinas of the town's Barrio del Artista, artists, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals debated the future over local menjurjes, with a favorite one created from ancho chiles. The punchy flavor of chiles grown by local farmers matched the fiery ideas and peppered conversation, becoming a tradition handed down over generations. The same local chiles, still grown in the volcanic Puebla soil, now appear in the handmade Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur.

Though ancho chile peppers may sound unfamiliar, they're essentially poblano chiles that have been dried and saturated with a deep reddish-black hue, per Merriam Webster. It's a widely used chile in Mexico, bearing an earthy, fruity flavor with notes of bitter chocolate, according to Cool Chile. It works well in mole stews, sauces, salsas — and, as it turns out, in liqueur-infused cocktails.

The Ancho Reyes process

The chile flavor in your cocktail definitely doesn't come from popping some poblano peppers in a blender. It starts way back in Puebla, before a poblana becomes an ancho. Prior to arriving at the Ancho Ryes distillery, the chilies grow naturally in fields for nine months, with subsequent three-year resting periods before the next generation of chiles get their turn in the soil, explains Ancho Reyes. Workers then hand-select each pepper for quality, plucking ones for the Verde liqueurs while still green, followed by a later harvest of mature reds for the company's Original version. 

Then the process diverges: The unripened chiles bound for Verde bottling get fire-roasted to procure the desired bright flavors, while the ripened chiles dry in the sun for 15 to 20 days, becoming ancho chiles with a rich, spicy essence. From there, it's on to either mashing or scissor-slicing by hand, depending on the bottle designation, vat-soaking in a neutral Mexican cane spirit for six months, and finally, hand-blending by the Ancho Reyes maestra meceradora, aka the master blender. 

Making your own Ancho Reyes cocktails

The makers of the Ancho Reyes Chile and Verde liqueurs offer their own time-tested cocktail concoctions for you to try, including a Spicy Verde Margarita made with Ancho Reyes Verde, tequila blanco, lime juice, and light agave nectar. As a twist on the well-known Moscow Mule cocktail, the company suggests its Spicy Mexican Mule using the original Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, lime juice, and ginger beer. Other homegrown recipes put rum, vodka, gin, and bourbon to work with the pepper-clad liqueurs, creating intense flavors and even a Verde Gimlet "with a double soul." recommends trying Ancho Reyes in classic cocktails such as a daiquiri or Paloma, or just experimenting for your own masterpiece creation. Or, if you'd like to try the liqueur in its own primitive form, straight from the Mexican makers, consider an accompaniment of jicama spears dusted with ancho chile powder. Cocktails Away touts a Bee Sting cocktail using honey syrup with Ancho Reyes, lemon juice, and gin.

Regardless of creative cocktail proclivities, a spicy liqueur with earthy dried or fire-roasted ancho chiles deserves your best shot. After all, as the distillery reveals, the liquid spills from a city known as "the cradle of the Mexican Baroque."