Who doesn't love tequila, mezcal and poblano peppers?
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Let’s face it, too many cocktails are just too goddam sweet. Most of my favorite flavors are fruit-based, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be sweet, does it? Unfortunately, most fruit-based liqueurs are pretty sweet, even the good ones. As I’ve slowly been learning, a good cocktail is about balance – not too sweet, not too herbal, not too floral, not too sour, not too spicy, etc. It’s also about complementary flavor profiles to create complexity – what tastes good with what. Traditional “authentic” cocktails from the 1920’s and even a bit earlier were actually pretty damn sweet by 21st century standards, but keep in mind that citrus was not as readily available back then as it is today, and crazy things like hot peppers were too intense for the delicate American and European palates. Well, we’ve evolved into a much more global cuisine, thankfully, and slowly but surely the smokey flavor of mezcal has made it’s way north and I’m guessing it will soon surpass the popularity of tequila. To keep apace with this newfound expanded palate there have been some wonderful new liqueurs that I believe should be added to the venerable canon of secret family recipes from the old world. The one that has really grabbed me by the nose and tongue is Ancho Reyes, which is based on a 1927 recipe chili pepper infused liqueur from Puebla, Mexico. The brand was established in 2012, and they only make two products. The one that I’m using is their more recent offering called Ancho Reyes Verde, which is made from smoking fresh green poblano peppers, while the original is made from the same peppers that have been sun dried to turn red and hotter, at which point they are called ancho peppers. Same pepper, two names… don’t ask me why, I’m from the Midwest and no habla Español. In any case, the green one is a bit milder and “fresher” flavored, while the red original is a bit spicier and hotter. To be honest, I’ve only had the “Verde” one, but as soon as I can get my hands on the original I’ll give it a try. What’s particularly interesting about this liqueur, aside from its spicy hot flavor, is that unlike so many other herbal liqueurs it’s a full 40 proof, so it’s more than a just an accent – it’s full strength! You can drink it straight (yum!) but it’s really good with tequila or bourbon based drinks like the Margarita and Manhattan.
I’ve played around a bit with it and enjoyed every single recipe, but I think that it tastes really good with tequila, mezcal and a bit of lime and my favorite grapefruit. I really like this recipe I found online, but I made a few minor changes. The original used only tequila, so I split the amount with mezcal, and since I was all out of agave syrup I used some of the lavender syrup I made for last week’s Flower Girl and I think it’s a pretty good approximation for agave only a bit more pungent and floral. I suppose honey syrup would work as well, but it definitely needs that tiny bit of sweetness or else it seems to lack body. I also doubled the grapefruit because I like it and I think it tastes a bit fruitier with that extra citrus. The first time I used Casamigos blanco tequila with Vida mezcal which was great, but I also tried it with Espolon reposado tequila and Monte Alban mezcal which was maybe more mellow but less flavorful. Try the original, try mine, and try your own variations!
1 oz. Ancho Reyes Verde
1/2 oz. Mezcal
1/2 oz. Tequila
1 oz. fresh squeezed grapefruit
1/2 oz. lime
1/4 oz. agave, lavender or honey syrup
Shake with ice, strain and garnish with grapefruit slice or peel.