The world has embraced tequila and mezcal with open arms, but Mexico’s liqueur category has been largely ignored on a global scale (minus you, Kahlúa). One to get to know immediately is made out of poblano chile peppers—and it's going to change your cocktail game.
Back in the 1920s, a family in Puebla used to utilize one of the region’s most plentiful crops to create an ancho chile (aka dried poblano chile pepper) liqueur consumed by their friends and relatives. The Reyes family never sold their ancho chile creation, and the recipe disappeared over time. When the team behind Montelobos mezcal got word of the concept, they decided to bring the liqueur back to life and name it after the elixir’s first family.
“We didn’t follow a recipe because we didn’t have one,” Montelobos chief marketing officer Roberto Hidalgo says of creating the first batch. The team didn’t know if they’d end up with the alcohol they were looking for or a hot sauce. After playing around with the process, they landed on a recipe for Ancho Reyes liqueur that’s captured the hearts of craft cocktailians around the world.
Inside the Ancho Reyes production facility near downtown Puebla, the sound of clanking bottles rings through the warehouse. Employees in tan uniforms and white hairnets go through the labor intensive process of cleaning ancho peppers, cutting them down with scissors, bottling the liqueur, and labeling the bottles by hand. The warehouse smells slightly spicy thanks to the sacks of ancho peppers around waiting to be processed. The facility building used to be a textile factory in the 40s and 50s. Behind it sits a defunct brothel. Across the street is a headquarters for a mariachi association. Off-duty musicians linger out front smoking cigarettes in their ornate uniforms.
The steps to make Ancho Reyes are simple to follow. The recipe starts with a neutral cane spirit the company gets from Veracruz, the Mexican state best known for producing base alcohol. The cane spirit gets thrown into vats with 100 kilos of peppers that macerate for six months. Every 15 days, an employee comes around to stir the tank’s contents with a wooden paddle. Once the juice is ready, employees use a french press-like tool to separate the liquids from the solids. The high-proof liquid gets mixed with water and a little sugar, resulting in the final 40 percent ABV product.
Ancho Reyes did so well after its launch, the team decided to release a second expression, Ancho Verde, in 2016. Instead of using the dried ancho peppers, they use fresh poblano chiles to produce a more vegetal drink. “If you’re going to the beach, you can mix Ancho Verde with tropical fruits like mango,” says bartender Emilio Valera Carmona, a Puebla native who throws down drinks at Intro Restaurant. “For the classic cocktials, I prefer the original.” Try revamping your margarita with an ounce of Ancho Reyes, or try Carmona’s Gavilán Reyes (recipe below).
If you drink too many of them, try a go-to Poblano hangover dish: Huaxmole, a meaty, braised mole with enough spice to warm up your chest (therapeutically) and get your sweat glands working. The consistency of the mole is more soupy than the town’s signature mole Poblano, meaning that it’s highly slurpable when you’re feeling horrible. Don’t forget to add plenty of lime and cilantro to cut the richness of the broth.
Stir and serve over ice in a glass with a salted rim.