What is Sotol? Inside Tequila’s Earthy Counterpart
The exploding popularity of tequila and mezcal in the United States has brought greater attention to Mexico’s wide variety of renowned plant-crafted spirits – among them, sotol.
As enthusiasts search for new flavors, we’re beginning to see an increasing number of sotol brands on the market, oftentimes placed right alongside tequila and mezcal on our liquor store shelves.
Is Sotol a Type of Tequila?
Sometimes mistaken as a type of tequila, sotol is more its bright, grassy cousin. Here is a brief explanation of the drink and a few bottles you’ll want to try for yourself.
What’s the Difference Between Sotol and Tequila?
Sotol is a distilled spirit made from a common shrub known as Dasylirion wheeleri or desert spoon.
Desert spoon is a succulent similar to agave, though its leaves are much thinner and more leathery, growing in dense clusters which shoot up a characteristic flowering spike that can reach 10 to 15 feet tall.
While tequila and the agave plants used to make it are ubiquitous in the southern regions of Mexico, sotol and desert spoon are hallmarks of the north. The official state spirit of Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuila, sotol is a revered drink with historical roots just as deep as tequila or mezcal.
How is Sotol Made?
Similarly to mezcal, sotol is made by roasting plants for three to four days, either in an above-ground conical oven or in large earthen pits.
After that, the roasted desert spoon is crushed into pulp, fermented in open-air wooden vats and double distilled.
How Does it Taste?
In contrast to tequila’s smooth finish or mezcal’s smoky bite, sotol is known to be bright and grassy, strongly bearing an earthy flavor with musky, vegetal highlights.
The exact flavor of greenery will vary depending on the type of desert spoon used to make sotol. Those grown in more humid climates will retain fresher notes of grass, mint and minerality, while those grown in drier climates develop the flavor of arid earth and spices.
4 Sotols Worth Purchasing
Given its borderline-niche status in the United States, finding a quality sotol can be difficult. Below are four recommendations to get you started on your sotol journey.
Oro de Coyame Sotol
For $20, there is no better introductory sotol than Oro de Coyame at its price. With distinct hits of artichoke and roasted nuts, this sotol is known to be smokier than some of its brighter counterparts.
Oro de Coyame mixes well with cocktails like margaritas and palomas but works just as well if you want to sip it on its own.
Find Oro de Coyame near you.
Desert Door Texas Sotol
At $40, Desert Door Texas Sotol is a well-known spirit for good reason. An excellent entry point for those hoping to taste sotol’s herbaceous sweetness, Desert Door’s profile combines a creamy taste with hints of citrus and mint.
Though Desert Door is arguably one of, if not the most recognizable sotol brand in the United States, it should be said that it is not one without controversy. Similar to other agave spirits like tequila and mezcal, sotol has a protected designation of origin which states that it can only be produced in one of three Mexican states; Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango. It goes without saying that Texas is not one of those states.
There has been significant discussion surrounding the ethics of Texas-made sotol. At the very least, this is certainly a brand that is easy to get your hands on.
Find Desert Door Texas Sotol near you.
Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol Plata
Hacienda de Chihuahua is one of the best-known Mexican producers on the market, and it takes its drink seriously. Its manufacturer, Vinomex, has been heavily involved in conservation efforts of the desert spoon plant to ensure future generations.
With the earthy, wet flavors of stems and leaves, as well as a distinct lingering aftertaste of vanilla, Hacienda de Chihuahua embodies sotol’s many signature traits. Just like tequila, you can find Hacienda de Chihuahua in reposado, añejo and platinum varieties. Each will cost around $40.
Find Haciende de Chihuahua Sotol Plata near you.
Clande Sotol (Green)
Clande Sotol is the brand of choice if you really want to taste what’s going into your sotol. Their biggest seller, Clande Sotol Green, is an ensamble that combines sotol and agave in its roasting process, producing a wild combination of pine, rosemary, honey and even arugula.
Famously, Clande Sotol sells different colored bottles of its sotol to represent their various regions of origin. While the Madera-produced Clande Sotol Yellow brings fruity bursts of banana and lemon, the Chihuahua-produced Clande Sotol Red leans deeper with hints of chocolate, baking spices and caramelized sugar.
If you want to discover how various plants can produce different sotols and don’t mind coughing up $100, Clande Sotol is the gourmet choice.
Find Clande Sotol near you.
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