- By Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
Our love for spicy flavors has heated up in the past few years, buoyed, especially in Texas, by our hunger for Mexican food and margaritas. So when a liqueur made from sun-dried ancho chilies hit the market in late 2013, bartenders and cocktail drinkers couldn’t get enough of it.
The Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur is now being joined by the Ancho Reyes Verde Liqueur, a fresher, brighter version derived from the poblano chili — the spicy Mexican pepper that serves as the base for both. Verde launches in Austin on Monday, too late for Wednesday’s National Margarita Day imbibing but just in time for refreshing spring and summer drinks.
“They are like red and green salsa,” said Shem Blum, brand ambassador for the products, which are part of the William Grant & Sons portfolio. “Two different kinds of spiciness, two sides of one ingredient.”
The Original, as he and the Ancho Reyes team now call the Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, is the result of sun-drying a green poblano pepper after leaving it on the vine a little longer than it’s supposed to be. Once it’s dried, the resulting red pepper is now called an ancho chili and has a remarkably changed flavor profile. In the Original, that means notes of cinnamon, dark caramel and even chocolate on top of the lingering heat.
“But what would the flavors of the liqueur be like if it stayed a poblano?” Blum said that’s what the visionaries behind the liqueurs, Ivan Saldaña, Moises Guindi and Daniel Schneeweiss, wondered. “They started experimenting and did a similar thing as they’d done with the Original. They consulted with the bartending community in Mexico and the U.S. and came up with Verde.”
After launching in New York last year, Verde is enjoying success behind the bar, revered for what makes it different from its predecessor — and thus suitable for cocktails that don’t match well with the Original.
There’s one cocktail in particular that Blum and the Ancho Reyes team know will be extra delicious with Verde: a classic spicy margarita.
“Fresh and bright and crisp, a little herbal, it fits more with what a consumer expects when they order a margarita,” Blum said. “Verde has more of an up-front sweet sort of spiciness. Ancho Reyes Original develops a little bit in your mouth with the spiciness, but Verde, as soon as you try it, it’s got more of that fresh heat that comes out right away.”
While the warm and rich Ancho Reyes Original shines in drinks that typically have aged spirits, such as rum, whiskey or cognac — acting as either supporting players or substituting for the main liquor — Verde is best with clear spirits such as vodka, gin and the blanco tequila most often found in margaritas. Another difference, Blum said, is that the Original is able to be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, sans other ingredients, while Verde is already being marketed more for cocktails.
“That’s really our focus for Verde in particular, to appeal to the margarita crowd,” he said.
With the Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur, Ancho Reyes co-founders Guindi, Saldaña and Schneeweiss distilled a piece of Latin history.
The recipe is a nod to one Mexican family’s homemade concoction, or menjurje, made from the signature crop of Puebla, a former Spanish colonial city in Mexico. The Reyes family, as the story goes, was just one of many groups of people — from artists to academics — in the post-revolutionary 1920s country experiencing a Roaring ’20s of their own, through an “avant-garde movement spread from cantinas to cabarets,” according to Ancho Reyes.
At these gatherings, booze, of course, in the form of the menjurjes, was at the center of it all, and the Reyes family’s particular spirited contribution was no doubt a favorite.
The 21st-century Ancho Reyes is similarly bringing people together — people who just love spicy flavors. Anticipation for the wider release of Ancho Reyes Verde has been building since it was launched last year, Blum said, thanks in part to the ongoing trend of spicy drinks.
“It’s not super universal, but those with the palate for it are very into it,” he said. “We feel like there’s so much potential for the brand. Not just for mixologists, but for home bartenders as well, because the margarita especially is a super simple recipe. Anyone can make it.”
Ancho Reyes Verde debuts in Austin with a launch party from 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 28 at Whisler’s. The liqueur will also be behind the bar at places like Clive on Rainey Street and the W Hotel, two longtime believers in Ancho Reyes, and it will retail for approximately $32.99.
This post has been corrected to reflect that Ancho Reyes Verde launches in Austin on Tuesday, Feb. 28.