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Distillery Visit: Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur

Last fall I visited the growing, drying, and production facilities for Ancho Reyes chile liqueur near Puebla, Mexico. I learned a lot about chiles. 

Ancho reyes boxes

We flew into the city of Puebla, and the chiles are grown not far away in San Martín Texmelucan de Labastida. 

Ancho chiles are the dried version of poblano peppers, much like chipotles are dried jalapenos. 

Poblanos: The Reaping

We visited a field where the chiles for Ancho Reyes were being harvested. These fields are 2000 meters above sea level in a volcanic valley. Water comes down from nearby volcanoes and makes the fields very wet . We had to travel standing in the back of a big truck to get through all the mud on the roads. The water is good, because poblano chiles require lots of it. 

In March and April the seeds are germinated and planted. They are delicate plants and require lots of care. The plants are supported by lines of string, so that they won't fall in the mud when the heavy peppers grow on them. It takes about 6 months before harvest. 

Fields of Poblano Peppers in Mexico for Ancho Reyes15
Fields of Poblano Peppers in Mexico for Ancho Reyes15
Fields of Poblano Peppers in Mexico for Ancho Reyes15

Poblano chiles are harvested one time per year. The first ones harvested are sold as fresh green chiles. 

Chiles that will become dried anchos are left on the vine longer than the ones harvested for fresh poblanos. Leaving them longer on the field concentrates flavors and sugars. 

Fields of Poblano Peppers in Mexico for Ancho Reyes5
Fields of Poblano Peppers in Mexico for Ancho Reyes5
Fields of Poblano Peppers in Mexico for Ancho Reyes5
Fields of Poblano Peppers in Mexico for Ancho Reyes5
 

All There Is To Know about the Drying Game

Around a bend on a small street in the town of San Martín Texmelucan de Labastida, you come across a cement fence with cacti on the top in place of barbed wire. Behind it are guard dogs; a double-incentive not to hop over the top. 

Cacti and spider wall

Inside is what looks like the foundation for a large building not yet started - a big patch of dirt, but it has been combed up to wide plateaus with narrow ditches dug through every ten feet or so. On top of those raised beds are zillions of drying poblano peppers in a limited rainbow of colors from red to brown, some still with their green stems sticking out. 

Drying poblano chiles for Ancho Reyes liqueur30

Drying poblano chiles for Ancho Reyes liqueur16
Drying poblano chiles for Ancho Reyes liqueur16 Drying poblano chiles for Ancho Reyes liqueur3
Drying poblano chiles for Ancho Reyes liqueur3

Beneath the peppers are what looks like a hay mat (actually small encino oak), which allows air to flow around the peppers as they dry. 

The chiles dry for between 15 and 30 days here, being flipped over every 3 days or so. The drying process both concentrates the flavor and sugar in the chiles, makes them shelf stable, and gives them more flavor complexity according to our hosts. 

Not all chiles you'll find in stores are dried this way - many now come from China, where they are dried in ovens. 

The Blend Of It All

The recipe for Ancho Reyes is "inspired by" a recipe from 1927. 

The actual recipe is:

  • 90% Ancho chile peppers
  • 10% Guajilla and Pacilla peppers 
  • A small amount of secret ingredients
  • Alcohol - 55% ABV cane syrup from Veracruz, Mexico
  • Sugar syrup, also from Mexico

Guajilla peppers are hot and spicy, while pacilla are more earthy. Dried chiles come into the production facility in big bags. 

Pepper types for Ancho Reyes2

The chiles are cut up with scissors. Some but not all of the seeds are discarded to get the right amount of heat in the final product.

Cutting peppers Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico2
Cutting peppers Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico2
Cutting peppers Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico2

Then the pieces of chli are infused into 1000 liter tanks of alcohol. About four of those huge bags go into each 1000L tank. They are stirred once per week and infuse for around 6 months. 

Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico12
Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico12
Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico12
Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico12

Each of the three chile varieties are infused separately, then the product is blended at the end along with sugar. When they blend, there is no set amount of sugar - they match it to the heat of the product each time. 

All the color of Ancho Reyes comes from the chiles; none is added. 

Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico5
Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico5
Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico5
Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico5
Ancho Reyes production facility Mexico5

Also: It is fun to drink. 

 

Comments

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Wade

That's a lot more craft than I expected. I have a bottle and thought it might work well in a Bloody Mary, but I found it to be too sweet. Still trying to find some interesting drinks to use this.

Camper English

Yeah it's still a liqueur, so you have to substitute it for something sugary in a drink like a liqueur or simple syrup. Despite the sugar cane distillate base, it works really well with tequila and mezcal. So you have make a spicy margarita or Old Fashioned etc. I've had a ton of great drinks with it.

Kami

Hi Camper! Any advice on how I might be able to visit the distillery? I live in Oaxaca and plan to spend a few days in Puebla at the end of July, email is not working, which I find is often the case in Latin America! I am a bartender, distiller and brand owner and love, love Ancho Reyes! Any help you might offer would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Camper English

They bottle it in batches, so most of the time they're not actively bottling I'd assume (until production gets very large). It's very much not-visitor-equipped as it's just a plain warehouse, so unfortunately I can't assist. Maybe someday they'll move to a nicer facility....

Debbie

Is there cinnamon in this?

Camper English

Though it doesn't taste of it, I don't know for sure as liqueur producers do not have to disclose their ingredients. I would recommend contacting the brand directly.

PAZ

Thank you, highly informative. I believe you are mistaken however when you state that chipotle is dried jalapeño. It is technically smoked. The word chipotle is a derivative of the nahuatl compound word chipoctli.
Chilli and popoctli or poctli (smoked). Really appreciated your article.
Mapitzmitl Xuikwetpaltzin.

Camper English

That makes sense, thanks!

Corinna Robinson

I made a spicy Mexican Mule with this liquer---DELICIOUS!!! I've fallen in love with this product, but it is very difficult for me to find. So much so that, sadly (and probably dangerously, lol) my next step is to attempt to make my own.

Danielle

I'm right there with you. I've found a recipe for ancho liqueur that also had cacao, but nothing else. Have you found any recipes?

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