Few products have garnered such rapid success as Ancho Reyes, the ancho chile-flavored liqueur that has recently become a bartender favorite for its adaptability in both classic and modern recipes. 

Based on a historic Pueblan recipe from 1927, Ancho Reyes first hit the market in 2014 and quickly became a backbar staple. Produced by macerating ancho chiles in a sugarcane distillate, the liqueur offers a more subdued heat in cocktails than fresh jalapeño, another commonly called-upon ingredient. “If you’re using jalapeño, up front, you get that immediate spiciness,” explains Simone Goldberg of New York’s Narcissa. “[Ancho Reyes] is more of a subtle finish to a drink.”

Describing its flavor as “smoky, spicy, with a hint of sweetness,” Goldberg says that the liqueur is surprisingly easy to incorporate into cocktails and recommends subbing it in place of sweetener in classic formulas. “It’s a good replacement for a sweetener because it adds more depth of flavor without adding a ton more ingredients,” she explains. Unsurprisingly, it’s a shoo-in with tequila-based drinks, like the Margarita and the Paloma, but performs equally well in their contemporary spins. Ezra Star’s Ancho Problem, for example, builds on equal parts Ancho Reyes and blanco tequila, plus measures of lime and demerara syrup.

In addition, Goldberg, among others, is quick to cite the liqueur’s versatility. “I love it with bourbon,” she says, noting that it can be used in place of sweetener in both the Old-Fashioned and the Manhattan for spicier, more complex variations. She also cites her Vaquero, a whiskey- and Ancho Reyes-based tropical drink built with bitter Aperol, pineapple, lemon juice and sage; think of it as a winterized Daquiri of sorts.

Meanwhile, Shannon Ponche of Brooklyn’s Leyenda says that the liqueur’s “earthy, slow-burn spice” can be a natural match for sherry-based cocktails, adding that it’s equally suitable with both shaken, citrusy formulas and stirred, spirit-forward ones. Her spiced take on the Negroni Sbagliato, The Edsel, leans on the former pairing: Built on a base of nutty oloroso sherry with additions of Campari and sweet vermouth, this sparkling wine-topped, low-ABV drink proves that Ancho Reyes can be an all-purpose addition to any backbar.

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