Crafting Mexican Flavor in Cocktails with Puebla’s Signature Pepper 

How Ancho Reyes creates delicious liqueurs with chile poblanos

January 18, 2024 8:15 am
A bottle of Ancho Reyes Original liqueur on a bed of chiles
Ancho Reyes now offers multiple liqueurs crafted from poblano peppers
Ancho Reyes

It’s no secret that Mexican spirits are currently a very big thing. The popularity of agave spirits in the United States is skyrocketing, with sales projected to soon overtake vodka as the country’s most popular spirit. Cocktail menus across the country are full of variations on the margarita and creative mezcal-based concoctions. As bartenders search to explore the depth of Mexican flavors, they’re increasingly turning toward the country’s diverse and vibrant cuisine for inspiration.

Even within Mexico’s already rich culinary traditions, the food of Puebla is especially vibrant. “Puebla has some of the best culinary culture in Mexico,” says Guadalupe Garcia, master blender at Ancho Reyes, a maker of chile liqueurs. 

Beyond the classic Mexican standards, dishes like the Middle Eastern-influenced tacos árabes, to the sweet and savory, pomegranate-topped chiles en nogales give Pueblan cuisine a unique identity. The people of Puebla are also extremely proud of the complex and deep mole sauces that the region is known for. At the heart of all of these dishes is the region’s namesake vegetable, the chile poblano.

A poblano pepper in the ground, highlighted by someone's hand
A green poblano is less ripe (and less hot)
Dylan Ettinger

Poblano peppers are Puebla’s biggest contribution to the world. Although grown in many places now, the pepper was first cultivated in the highlands of Puebla where they flourish in the mineral-rich, volcanic soil. The peppers are most recognizable in their fresh, green form, but they are also often allowed to mature on the vine until they reach a bright red color and their flavor deepens. The red peppers are then dried in the sun, concentrating their flavors and creating an intense flavor base for salsas, moles and many other dishes. The term “ancho” is used to describe the peppers once they have matured. 

It’s no surprise that Casa Lumbre, the parent company of Ancho Reyes, looked to Puebla and the poblano pepper when they set out to craft the world’s first chile liqueur. “Mexico didn’t have a liqueur that represented it in the rest of the world,” says Roberto Hidalgo, Chief Marketing Officer of Casa Lumbre. 

In crafting their chile liqueur, they looked back to another tradition from Puebla, the menjurje. A menjurje (meaning elixir, concoction or mixture) is essentially a homemade infusion of fruit, bark and spices in alcohol. “If you had fruit leftover, you would macerate it in cane spirit,” Hidalgo explains. The brand found inspiration in the recipe for a chile pepper-based menjurje from around Puebla in the 1920s that is credited to the Reyes family. And with that, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur had an identity.

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Packaged in a bottle designed to embody the culture and architecture of 1920s Puebla, Ancho Reyes Original is the brand’s flagship expression. This concoction is made by macerating dried, red ancho chiles in a 55% ABV, neutral cane spirit distilled in the neighboring state of Veracruz. After macerating for six months, sugar is added and the liquid is proofed down to a gentler 40% ABV (80 proof). The resulting liqueur is chile-forward while not being overbearing. The dried ancho chiles provide a moderate amount of capsaicin heat, but the predominant flavor notes are dried pepper, tamarind, raisin and a hint of chocolate with a whiff of smoke in the finish. When used in cocktails, Ancho Reyes plays a similar role as the nearly ubiquitous ancho-based salsa roja served with many dishes in Mexico. It delivers a smoky punch of roast chiles and a bit of spice.

Ancho Reyes Verde on a table with food and cocktails
Ancho Reyes Verde offers fresh, bright flavors
Ancho Reyes

Ancho Reyes Verde, as the name suggests, is made from fresh, green poblano peppers. It shares a common DNA with the original, but the emphasis on fresh, bright flavors provides a contrast to the roasted chile and dried fruit. In a similar process to the original formula, the fresh chiles are combined with a small portion of fire-roasted peppers and macerated in a neutral cane spirit. To offset the water content of the fresh chiles, the cane spirit used for this maceration is 75% ABV. After a similar period of infusion, the mixture is sweetened, proofed down and bottled. The resulting liqueur mirrors fresh salsa verde. It’s packed with fresh vegetal notes of pepper, cilantro and lime zest with a burst of fresh chile heat. It’s almost like it was tailor-made to pair with tequila and lime juice to create a spicy Margarita

The three bottles produced by Ancho Reyes
The Ancho Reyes portfolio, including the new, aged Barraca bottle
Ancho Reyes

The newest addition to the Ancho Reyes lineup is the barrel-aged Ancho Reyes Barrica. The original Ancho Reyes recipe is aged for two years in ex-whiskey barrels sourced from Jack Daniel’s. After two years of interacting with the whiskey-seasoned wood, the liqueur deepens in color and is imbued with the notes of caramel, spice and vanilla that define the aroma and flavor of American whiskey. It is still very clearly a chile liqueur, though the fruit notes and spice are tempered by the aging process. If the other two expressions mirror salsa roja and salsa verde respectively, the Barrica shares a rich, almost chocolatey character with the region’s signature dish — mole poblano. 

“To me, it’s not only representing Puebla,” Garcia says. “It’s about representing Mexico as a whole.” In their pursuit of creating the signature liqueur of Mexico, Ancho Reyes was smart to focus on the tradition of menjurjes and the poblano pepper. The three chile liqueurs they produce reflect the landscape and the agriculture of Mexico while blending perfectly within the vibrant culinary tapestry of the country. And most importantly, bartenders all over the world now have a bit more flavor of Mexico.


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