I'm more of a diehard traditionalist than an experimenter when it comes to cocktails. I like what I like, and my liquor cabinet is stocked with standards that you'd find anywhere. It's not even a cabinet, per se, but two trays — one on a cart in my dining room, the other on my kitchen counter. The dining room tray contains varietals that I use less often, such as Vermouth and Cachaça, and the kitchen tray bears the basics — gin, tequila, and vodka — plus whatever I'm into at the moment.
Right now, that moment is spicy, thanks to Ancho Reyes Verde, a chile liqueur that has migrated from Mexico to Tennessee liquor store shelves this fall. The elixir, which has roots in Puebla de Zaragoza, Mexico, actually dates back to 1927. It just took 90 years to find its way to Memphis, thanks to Milagro Tequila's Daniel Schneeweiss and Moises Guindi, who unearthed the forgotten recipe that utilizes Puebla's signature crop, the ancho chile.
Ancho Reyes Verde is made from chiles that were harvested early, then fire roasted while still green. They're soaked in neutral sugarcane spirits for six months, mashed during the maceration process, then filtered through mesh and paper. The 80-proof greenish-amber liqueur that results tastes fresh and bright and packs a twangy, unforgettable kick. It'll do all the heavy lifting for drinking this fall.
The versatile liqueur mixes well with clear liquors, such as tequila, gin, or vodka. It packs a welcome punch that elevates cocktails like margaritas and gimlets to a higher plane. Like citrus zest, the flavor of a vegetable you've just picked in your own garden, or the promise of a crisp fall afternoon, it adds a transformative zing that, until you taste it, you don't realize that you've been missing. Think of it, as L.A. Weekly food writer Brad Japhe says, "as bartender's Sriracha ... a way to infuse spicy flavor into any recipe."
The herbaceous flavor of Ancho Reyes Verde makes it a perfect match for Hendrick's or any of the boutique gins on the market. I love the Ancho Gimlet, which combines equal parts of Ancho Reyes Verde, Hendrick's, and lime juice with a half-part of simple syrup. The ingredients are shaken with ice, then strained and garnished with a cucumber slice to cut the heat.
I don't have a juicer, but I'd love to try a Night of the Iguana, a cocktail that calls for two ounces of Hendrick's, ¼ ounce Ancho Reyes Verde, ¾ ounce celery juice, 1/3 ounce cucumber juice, ¾ ounce lemon juice, ¾ ounce simple syrup, and a pinch of sea salt. Like the Ancho Gimlet, all the ingredients are shaken with ice, then garnished with cucumber.
Quick and easy is more my speed, which is why I gravitated toward the vodka-soda-Verde recipe I found on Food & Wine's website. The recipe calls for 1 ounce vodka, ½ ounce of Ancho Reyes Verde, ½ ounce simple syrup, and ¾ ounce fresh lime juice, plus a dash of Angostura bitters. The ingredients are shaken and stirred, then strained into a tall glass with ice and topped with club soda and a lime wedge. Right now, it's my current favorite Sunday afternoon drink, part of my recovery ritual after spending an intense hour on the soccer field as part of the over-35 women's indoor league.
Ancho Reyes Verde also works well in a daiquiri as a counterpart to a good white rum, or in a traditional margarita. Add it to anything citrus-based, such as a Paloma or a Greyhound. Get crafty, or transform your favorite traditional cocktail recipe. It'll knock your proverbial socks off — I guarantee it.