All About Sotol From The Desert Spoon
by Greg Rutkowski
Sotol does not come from agave plants, but from the Sotol plant, also known as the desert spoon. Dasylirion wheeleri, Asparagaceae, is the most common sotol variety. It is a plant that grows wild in Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. The sotol plant thrives well in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan high desert climates. It has long been an essential plant as a source of food.
History of Sotol
Sotol came into existence during the colonial era in Mexico when distillation techniques were the methods of getting spirit out of the already-fermented plants. The plants, in this case, included desert spoon and sotol plants, which were common in sierras and the northern part of Chihuahua.
Like mezcal and tequila, sotol embodies the mixing process, which gave rise to many aspects of Mexican culture.
Sotol came into existence in the early 1930s, marked with the production of over 300,000 liters yearly, and the United States benefited from most of it. Sotol was considered liquor for the drunks and peasants, leading to persecution of its producers and destruction of their stills.
However, in the early 1990s, the government lifted the prohibition, and the liquor started rising again literally. There was renewed interest in sotol, and the industrial and artisanal brands started resurrecting and bringing the agave based spirit to the public.
Don Refugio Pérez Marquez' Don Cuco' is among those who participated in the making of Sotol Por Siempre during the late years of the 20th century. He carried on with sotol distillation in the West-central regions of Chihuahua when the production was still illegal. The name Por Siempre is a Spanish word meaning 'forever' which referred to the traditions of sotol and its forever future.
The crafting of sotol was art that Don Cuco had learned from his grandfather and father. He also passed it over to his kids, who passed it through to the other generations.
Production Process of Sotol
The process begins by cutting the serrated, and spiky sotol plant leaves off the core using hands. Wild sotol pina matures for around 8-15 years, depending on the environment. Making a bottle of sotol requires only one pina because of the plant's low sugar content and dryness. The harvesters try to uproot the plants carefully without killing them. This is to ensure multiple harvests from a single.
At this point, the pina proceed for underground baking back in the Vinata, where they are put inside pit ovens with volcanic stones lining. The team then uses hardwoods to build a fire inside the pit, and once the fire attains optimal temperature, the team loads and covers the pina quickly. The covering ensures that the oven maintains the hot temperature. The team then soaks the pinas before cooking so that they do not burn. On the same note, they place and drive a wooden stake carefully inside the pit before pouring some water to manage the hot spots. The hardwoods used for roasting sotol include red and white oak, cottonwood, pine, and mesquite.
After roasting, the pinas undergo shredding. Shredding opens up the fibrous core of the plants for bacteria and water to reach the sugars easily. During the summer, the team uses their hands, machetes, or axes to shred the pinas. As for winter, the vinata uses small shredders so that the team is safe from the cold weather.
This stage also marks the removal of 'Choyaca,' which is the middle part and the plant's bitter part. If it proceeds to the fermentation process, then it will impart a bitter flavor.
At this stage, the team loads the roasted and shredded sotol inside fermentation vats. These vats have pine linings and are crafted with cement. The fermentation also involves using wild yeasts, which last for around 4 to 8 days, and this depends on the outside temperature. During the warmer months, the heat aids the fermentation process, and at the end, the team loads the mash inside the still.
Heating the fermented mosto involves using copper stills, and the steel caps on top of the ovens mimic the hollowed-out logs used in the past with their cylindrical shape.
Distillation takes place in two phases. The first phase involves heating the still using pine and cottonwood, while the second involves heating the steel using a gas fire. This better controls the cuts in the last distillate.
Types of Sotol
1. Desert Door Texas Sotol
Desert Door Texas Sotol is a perfect choice for first-timers. This versatile spirit tastes good when neat and mixed in a cocktail, and it falls in between smooth sipping tequilas and desert gins in the scale of liquors. Desert Door Texas Sotol gives the taste buds an experience of a lifetime.
Taste- Delivers a mixture of flavors which include creamy, vegetal, and herbaceous notes, bursts of mint, citrus, cinnamon, toffee, and clove.
2. Hacienda Chihuahua Crema Sotol
For sotol, all levels are high, and each bottle of sotol deserves commitment and care during production. Hacienda Chihuahua Crema Sotol appears to be the most pocket-friendly among all the other sotol bottles. Similarly, this liquor tastes well on its own or in a mixture of cocktails. It has an alcohol value of 35%, which will switch you to the perfect mood quickly. Surprisingly, the yeast used in Hacienda Chihuahua Crema Sotol production is the same as the one for fermenting champagne.
3. Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol Reposado
Most tequilas are associated with wild nights and shots, yet this is not the case with this premium Mexican liquor from Chihuahua state. The production of Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol Reposado takes place in José Daumas Gil de Partearroyo master distillers and it ages inside white oak barrels. This is the reason behind its light vanilla flavor. Since the liquor is a product of wild plants, it's both Kosher and USDA organic.
4. Sotol Coyote Durango Sotol
Not all sotols undergo aging after distillation. Although this may bring about lesser products in other spirits, it is simply a matter of change in taste for sotol. Immediately after opening Sotol Coyote Durango Sotol's bottle, you will feel your nose waking up from this smoky spirit's beefy character.
Palate- noticeable salinity similar to green olive but not very overpowering. The salinity surrounds the softness of the liquor.
Hints- Lemon and pepper hints at the end of a sip, after which this silk-like liquid will be gone
5. Fabriquero Durango Sotol
Fabriquero Durango Sotol is also unaged, and it proves that aging does not make a spirit far better than the others. Its unique flavor falls in between mezcal and tequila, and the smokiness teases the drinker's senses.
Hints- Has hints of honeydew, evergreen, and lemon peel, forcing the drinkers to return for more.
Palate- semi-sour and semi-sweet experience which is strange though not an unpleasant sensation.
Notes- Notes of menthol, more melon, and ripe bananas
Why Choose Sotol
Wild-harvesting, earthen-oven cooking, hand-crushing, open-air fermentation, and double distillation in copper pot stills to end up with an outstanding flavor that every drinker would go after.
If you've only experimenting with taking tequila and mezcal, you need to try something new like the desert spoon. The agave plants are a blessing to those who like spirits as there are many agave based spirits that you can choose from. Better still, they have cocktails that go with different food pairings and so there is a drink for everyone. If you are wondering how you can drink mezcal, we've got you covered too!