SOTOL,Tequila's Big Little Cousin
For many years sotol, a liquor made from the heart of a smallish desert plant, was served almost exclusively as a cheap staple in gritty northern Mexican cantinas. Unlike its relatives, tequila and mezcal, sotol is not made from an agave plant, but from one that is sometimes called desert spoon. Its official name is Dasylirion wheeleri, and its classification is the same as agaves until you get down to the family designation, at which point the agave branches to the Agavaceae family and the Sotol to the Liliaceae or lily family.
Almost all sotol is harvested wild in the Chihuahua desert. Like an artichoke, the outer leaves are removed and the plant’s core is cooked, shredded, and fermented, after which it is distilled. It takes each sotol plant between twelve and fifteen years to mature, at which time each one produces only enough to make about one bottle!
That bit of trivia out of the way, what we are really interested in is how sotol tastes! Fortunately, unlike the crude cantina offerings, the product made by Hacienda de Chihuahua is terrific—smooth and sophisticated! It also tastes a lot like tequila. In fact, it is much smoother than comparably priced tequilas, and is as refined as many tequilas that cost three to four times as much. (By smooth I mean it lacks the harsh bite of many less expensive tequilas). In terms of taste it has a slightly floral—almost grassy—flavor that is more subtle than that of most tequilas. While sotol can be used in mixed-drinks, like Margaritas, that obscures its complex flavors, which seems to me a shame. My suggestion is to serve it straight up and ice cold, (which seems to work well for at least some people who are put off by the more assertive flavor and harshness of less expensive tequilas).
Like tequila, sotol comes in three designations: plata (silver), which is freshly distilled without aging; reposado (rested), which is aged for a few months up to a year; and añejo (mature), which is aged for no less than one year. I like them all, but the reposado is my favorite. Whichever one you try first, it is definitely time for aficionados of tequila—and for some who have not quite taken to tequila—to give its cousin, sotol, a taste!