The Pope of Chili Town
1 1/2 oz Reposado Tequila
3/4 oz Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
1/2 oz Falernum
1/4 oz Dry Vermouth
1/8 oz (1 barspoon) Kummel
Stir with ice, strain into an ice filled rocks glass.
Here we go, part two of my Bottle Swap Collaboration with Garnish Girl. Last week we focused on the King’s Ginger ginger liqueur for the Thoroughly Polite Dustup and Moscow Martini. This week we’re turning our attention to Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur. I’ve walked by this bottle countless times, growing more and more intrigued by its vintage-ish label and promise of heat and pepper flavor. It took a bottle swap to finally get it in my bar.
According to the website, it started in the Mexican town of Puebla. Being that their main crop is the poblano pepper, it was only a matter a time before someone threw the dried version (that would be the ancho chile pepper) into some booze. In this case, the neutral spirit base comes from cane juice. The result is a deep scarlet colored liqueur, that has the signature spiciness on the nose. Also mixed in there are some earthy tones, a bit of smoke and a faint herbaceousness in the background. Heat is the first thing that hits you on the sip, but it’s not overpowering. Chocolate, cinnamon, more smoke, and hint of the pepper itself are all present. The thicker body holds up to the spice nicely as well.
Getting down to business, I had a clear picture for what I wanted to do with this one. Tequila or mezcal was the obvious base spirit choice. Tequila gets the call here, as I don’t want to drown out the Ancho Reyes with all the smoke in mezcal. Then I thought about things I like to eat that have ancho chiles in them, and chili was at the top of that list. Well, you can’t have chili without cumin. And wouldn’t you know it, I have a bottle of Kummel (a cumin liqueur) in the bar already. I’d be a fool not to put these two together, I don’t care how obvious it is.
Finally a little lemon juice to brighten everything up…or so I thought. For some reason, the citrus just didn’t play nicely with everything else. It muddied the other flavors and took away some of the punch. Instead I ended up reaching for some falernum a friend made for me. I still get some citrus notes, but the added spices in there help bridge the gap to those in the Ancho Reyes and Kummel. The extra bit of sweetness should keep the heat manageable too.
After tasting this version, I was worried this was becoming more of a Kummel drink than an Ancho one. So I reduced the amount to a Kummel rinse. Now the pendulum swung too far in the other direction, and I realized how important the earthy cumin flavors really are. Eventually I settled on a barspoon, a compromise that gave enough foundation while still letting the Ancho be the real star.
Where my previous bottle swap drink leaned toward the sweeter side, this one is savory through and through. Even though tequila is the base, the real star here is the Ancho Reyes. Its heat is front and center, but doesn’t hog the spotlight. Cumin from the Kummel helps to ground it, and the other spices from the Falernum elevate those already lurking in the chile liqueur. Dry vermouth adds some tartness lost by omitting the lemon juice. Using a reposado Tequila also helps keep everything nice and smooth, and there is a fun interplay between agave and pepper through the sip.
The name comes from the infamous Guatemalan Insanity Pepper episode of The Simpsons. When Springfield hosts a chili cookoff, there is no bowl too hot for Homer. Chief Wiggum wants to prove him wrong with a chili made with “the merciless peppers of Quetzalacatenango … grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum.” As Homer struts towards his booth, the Chief mocks his over-confidence and calls him the Pope of Chili Town. My love of the Simpsons is already established, and with chili flavors abound in this drink, I couldn’t resist going to the well once more.
Now it’s time for you check out Garnish Girl’s Bonfire to see how she used this spicy liqueur. Hopefully these last two weeks have shown you how much fun bottle swaps can be, even if you don’t have a blog. Any plan to get more variety into your bar is always a good one, especially at low investment. I’m sure this won’t be the last time Garnish Girl and I do this. So find a friend and gets to swapping!