What is Sotol? All About The Desert Spoon Spirit
Sotol is a spirit that's been gaining more and more attention in recent years, but has a longstanding history that few are aware of. So what is sotol? What's it made from? Is it tequila?
Read on to learn the answers to all these questions, and for a fun sotol cocktail recipe as well!
What is Sotol?
Sotol is a type of alcohol created from the sotol plant, known in English as the Desert Spoon shrub (or if you're a scientist, dasylirion wheeleri). It was first known to be made by indigenous people in what's now Mexico, was banned by Mexico for a while, and is now experiencing unprecedented popularity in the US.
What's the Difference Between Sotol, Tequila, and Mezcal?
There are many similarities between the three spirits: all three are made from plants growing in similar climates, all three often have herb flavors on the nose and palate and both mezcal and sotol have a smokiness to them. The fermentation and distillation process is similar, and tequila, mezcal, and sotol all have a primarily Mexican production history. Both agave and sotol have piñas, or hearts, that are roasted as a part of the spirit making process.
The biggest difference, however, between sotol and other spirits, is the plant used. Tequila distillate is made from blue weber agave, mezcal can be made from any type of agave, but sotol can only be made from sotol, or the desert spoon plant. Sotol also tastes pretty different than agave spirits, with less sweetness and more grassiness. Similarly to tequila, sotol does have three versions, with an unaged, aged for less than a year, and aged for over a year form. Sotol, however, is most popular when unaged or in it's "purest" form.
What is Sotol Made From?
As you likely know by now, sotol is made from sotol. Easy enough to remember, but what is the sotol plant, and what makes it unique?
Sotol is a spiny succulent with tall and thin leaves, and interestingly enough, is actually known to be a part of the asparagus plant family. Sotol grows in hot climates, mostly the northern part of Mexico but also occasionally Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.
Depending on where it was grown, the sotol plant can imbue the sotol spirit with slightly different tasting notes. For example, sotol growing in wetter climates may be fresher and minty, with notes of pine, grass, and eucalyptus, while those growing in more arid areas may have more spice and earthy tasting notes. Sotol is a diverse plant that creates diverse spirits.
A Brief History of Sotol and it's Controversies
Sotol has been made in Mexico for a very long time, with the first known fermented drinks made from the sotol plant dating back to the indigenous people of the region, the Raramiris, who used sotol for multiple other purposes as well. The Spanish came over later on and introduced distillation, and sotol became more spirit-like and less beer-like.
However, the Mexican government banned sotol as a spirit in the 1920s, and it remained illegal until 1994. In a similar vein to moonshiners and bootleggers, soteleros would continue production despite the law.
A DO, or denomination of origin, was given to sotol by the Mexican government in 2002, but it was anything but simple. The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, is what ensures that the US follows Mexican rules regarding Mexican spirits, such as tequila and mezcal, including honoring their DO. For example, tequila can only be made in the Oaxaca region of Mexico, legally, because of the official DO established by Mexico, and honored by the US through NAFTA.
Sotol, however, was still illegal in Mexico at the time that NAFTA was signed, so it was not included in the agreement the same way that tequila and mezcal were. In 2020, the United States Mexico Canada Agreement became the new trade agreement, in place of NAFTA, and Mexico tried to add sotol to the list of spirits allowed to be made solely in certain areas of Mexico. Worried that sotol companies in Texas would be losing business, congressmen refused to sign until the sotol DO part of the agreement was removed.
Controversies: Texas Sotoleros vs. Mexican Sotoleros
While there was an agreement between Mexico and the US to discuss further, in the meantime, much controversy has broken out between some Mexican sotoleros and supporters, who believe that Mexican for sotol should be binding, and sotol must be made in the provinces of Chihuahua, Coahuila, or Durango. Texan sotol distilleries, such as Desert Door Sotol, continue to produce American sotol, under the premise that if sotol is growing in Texas and US law doesn't clearly honor the sotol Mexican DO, they should be able to make sotol and call it sotol. As of now there are capable sotoleros on both sides of the border, and high quality sotol produced in both Mexico and U.S.
Try our recommended brand, produced by Edmundo Enriquez in the city of Chihuahua: Guerra Suca Sotol. Get it here on TIPXY.com.
What cocktails does sotol go well in? There's a broad range, and often sotol will be substituted instead of tequila or mezcal for a unique twist.
Try our easy to make sotol cocktail!
- 1.5 oz Guerra Seca Sotol
- 1 oz Vitae Spirits Triple Sec (or another triple sec or orange liqueur)
- .75 oz lime juice
- .5 oz simple syrup
- Salt, for salting the rim (optional)
- Orange, lemon, or lime peel or slice for garnish (optional)
- Salt the outer rim of your margarita glass, fill glass with ice, careful not to get salt in the glass.
- Shake the sotol, triple sec, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Strain into your salted margarita glass, garnish, and enjoy!
Don't forget to check out Tipxy.com for more unique wine and spirits that ship right to your doorstep!