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Mexico’s Liquor Pride: What is Sotol (and Why You Should Try It!)

Last Updated on July 27, 2023 by Lydia Martin

Sotol is a Mexican plant and spirit slowly entering the United States liquor market. It is deemed one of the finest alternatives to tequila and mezcal. Because of this, sotol is getting the recognition it deserves. Thus, the public is seeing more of the different sotol brands and varieties in the market, usually alongside tequila and mezcal.

However, despite sotol’s increasing popularity, many people are still clueless about it. Letting this controversial plant-crafted liquor slip your taste buds is a shame. If you’re planning to skip your usual tequila and mezcal drinking sessions to give sotol a shot, you’re in the right place. We have every bit of detail you need to make an informed decision.

Let’s start digging into the hype of sotol: what it is and why it is a must-try!

What is Sotol?

Sotol is derived from the Nahuatl word tzotolin, which means palm with long and thin leaves. It describes the source and distillate (or spirit) of the sotol liquor. Don’t be confused: sotol is a plant from which the sotol spirit is crafted.

palm with long and thin leaves

 

The sotol plant is scientifically known as the Dasylirion wheeleri but is commonly designated as the desert spoon. It was once part of the Agavaceae family but was later reclassified as a member of the nolinaceae family along with the rest of the dasylirion varieties.

Where can the desert spoon plant be found?

The sotol or desert spoon plant is mainly grown and harvested from the wide land of the Chihuahuan Desert of Northern Mexico that spans across the Southwestern United States, specifically in West Texas. The desert is known for its calcium-rich soils derived from limestone beds.

Because of this, sotol plants are taller and bigger than most of their family members; their flowering stalks shoot up from the center of the plant, growing up to 15 feet at most. With these distinct features, sotol plants commonly resemble giant sea urchins.

Similar to other plants, the sotol leaves are primarily taken advantage of as the main material of woven baskets. Meanwhile, the bulbs are where the liquor comes from. It’s good that every part is crafted into profitable products – no throwouts!

How is the Sotol spirit crafted?

Sotol is made by roasting the buds (the part where the leaves are attached) of a matured, between 10 to 15 years of age desert spoon plant. Once it reaches maturity, the desert plant is carefully harvested to retrieve the buds and keep the root system intact deep into the soil for it to healthily grow back.

Once the buds are garnered, the spiny leaves will be meticulously removed, leaving them spotless. Afterward, the buds will be roasted in an above-ground oven for several days until crisp. The cooked buds will be pressed and crushed to extract the sap or juice.

The sap will then be left in wooden vats to ferment before undergoing the distillation process in column or pot stills. The sotol-making process might be lengthy, but this will all be nothing after having a shot of it – it is well-crafted and over the top!

Remember: nothing beats a slow yet sure liquor-making process. Producing an extraordinary and tasteful drink takes a significant amount of time. Because of this, most sotol companies are keeping their guard up when it comes to manufacturing measures.

Where is the sotol manufactured?

As mentioned above, wild harvested sotol plants are commonly seen in the Chihuahuan Desert, the historical epicenter of the sotol spirit. With this, sotol was mainly crafted at Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango. Unfortunately, in 2004, the Mexican government shook the sotol production industry – the legal manufacturing of sotol was restricted.

However, the limitations were only narrowed to the borders of Mexico. So, various regions outside Mexico still have the freedom to recreate varieties of the sotol Mexican spirits. Because of this, the influences of sotol progressed with time, which is a big relief to enthusiasts.

How does sotol taste?

Sotol is firmly described with a bright and grassy flavor, which is significantly distinct from tequila or mezcal. While tequila has a spicy flavor and mezcal with a smokey flavor, sotol has a fresh taste with a twist of herbaceous and vegetal characteristics. However, sotol experts claim that the best defining factor of how it tastes is when and where the different sotol species are grown and harvested.

Ricardo Pico of Sotol Clande revealed that forest-grown sotol species have distinct eucalyptus, mint, and pine flavors. Meanwhile, desert-grown sotol hearts have a distinctive mezcal taste with an earthy, mineral, leathery flavor. Moreover, it was revealed that the longer sotols are fermented in french oak barrels, the more sweet and fruity their taste becomes.

What is the right way to drink Sotol?

The best way to enjoy sotol is to drink it straight, without any mixes. However, enthusiasts revealed that unaged and aged sotols combine well with cocktails, margaritas, and sangrias. Moreover, some avid drinkers announced that sotol can also be paired with a Paloma – a drink made with fresh grapefruit and lime juice mixed with agave nectar. 

But wait, there’s more: unaged sotol is often used as an alternative to clear liquor in cocktails, making it easy to mix and match with flavorful add-ons. For instance, some bars have set up their own sotol system, while others made a separate menu for sotol mixtures.

How is Sotol different from tequila and mezcal?

Sotol is different from tequila and mezcal based on their sources – sotol is extracted from the sotol plant, while the other two are made from agave plants. Because of this, sotol has a more organic, sustainable, and tasty flavor that strokes through the throat in every drink.

Moreover, these three spirits are extracted from different agave and sotol varieties: tequila is crafted from only one variety – the blue agave, and mezcal is made from thirty agave varieties. Meanwhile, sotol is manufactured from eighteen sotol varieties. In addition, the plants which these three are extracted from are diversly harvested.

The root system of the agave plant must be dug up to retrieve the buds and replanted afterward. Meanwhile, the buds from the sotol plant can be obtained without grubbing up the roots as the buds grow on top of the soil and attach to the leaves.

Lastly, the production of sotol and mezcal is similar – it is roasted in an above-ground oven. In contrast, tequila is primarily steam-baked before its buds are crushed to extract the agave distillate and subjected to fermentation. The plants where these liquor come from and how they are manufactured highly influence the taste they impart when consumed.

Is drinking Sotol worth a shot?

Sotol has a sweet and tangy flavor that imparts a very fresh taste compared to tequila and mezcal, making it more appealing to the taste buds. Moreover, it is believed that most sotol brands, such as Desert Door Texas Sotol, offer organic and gluten-free sotol varieties, giving off a more sustainable and tasty smack.

Because of this, sotol is best paired with a ton of liquor varieties and mixtures, such as cocktails and sangria. With this in mind, sotol offers more freedom and creativity to how you want it to taste, making it more fun to drink.

Due to the refreshing and alleviating feeling that sotol can provide, a lot of picky drinkers prefer this liquor over tequila and mezcal. So, if you have distinct taste buds but want a taste of alcohol to stroke your throat, you might want to give sotol a shot.

FAQs

What is the meaning of sotol?

Sotol is a plant closely related to agave, which is scientifically known as Dasylirion wheeleri but commonly designated as a desert spoon. This same plant is where the sotol spirit is extracted from, which is an excellent replacement for tequila and mezcal.

What flavor is sotol liquor?

Sotol has a bright and grassy flavor, but this can vary depending on when and where it is made. It was revealed that aged sotols can impart a sweet and fruity taste with strokes of dried cherries and vanilla when consumed.

Is sotol better than tequila or mezcal?

The flavor of sotol is creamier and softer compared to the biting flavor of tequila and the smoky flavor of mezcal due to its gluten-free spirit. Because of this, a ton of avid drinkers, despite not having historical agave spirits, prefer sotol over the two. Still, the preferences are dependent on your taste buds. So, it is not ideal to say that sotol is better than tequila or mezcal.

The Verdict

Sotol is becoming more recognized these days, making it one of the in-demand liquor types. In fact, it was revealed by Esquire that it has the ability to replace mezcal and tequila sooner or later. Because of this, sotol’s popularity is undeniable, urging every market to get hold of every brand and make it available in their stores. 

We hope this article helped you a lot in many ways, especially in making an informed decision on what to get for your next event or gathering. If you’re still unsure, include the claims of Esquire as a contributing factor before heading with a conclusion.

References

  1. https://www.esquire.com/food-drink/drinks/a12798341/sotol-mexican-liquor-spirit/

Lydia Martin

Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here.

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