Obscure spirit category, sometimes called sotol yucca, sotol tequila or sotol liquor, is becoming a trend to try. Get the scoop on the sotol taste here, and then buy a bottle at Total Wine.
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What is sotol?
Until now, I’d never heard of sotol liquor, an interesting spirit category similar to agave-based spirits like tequila, mezcal, bacanora and raicilla. Instead, it’s existed in obscurity on the back ranges of the Chihuahua desert of West Texas, northern Mexico, New Mexico and Arizona. Recipes—kept hush-hush—were passed discretely from generation to generation.
What makes sotol liquor different from its agave cousins is the plant from which it’s made. Distillers use blue agave for tequila. But sotol is made from a diverse genus of plant called—you guessed it—sotol. Although the spiny plant is sometimes called “sotol yucca,” “sotol agave” or “sotol cactus,” it is not a yucca, agave or cactus. The flowering, grass-like plant is part of the dasylirion family. Confusing, right? But it’s the plant that gives the liquor the unique sotol taste. More on that later.
Desert Door Sotol
I was introduced to sotol by Desert Door, an artisanal distillery out of Driftwood, Texas. “Our sotol is pure Texan—it even has Texas in its scientific name,” Bobbi Hitchon, Desert Door Field Marketing Director, told me. They distill sotol from only one of the 21 dasylirion (sotol) varieties called dasylirion texanum or Texan Sotol, aka Texas sotol.
Sustainable, Wild Harvest of Texas Sotol
The plants are wild-harvested on the far west Texas plains, where millions of Texas sotol shrubs grow like weeds. The Desert Door team selects only a small number of mature plants per acre and leaves root systems intact as a sustainable practice. This is quite different from agricultural methods used to cultivate and harvest plantation-grown blue agave, the essential ingredient of tequila, not “sotol tequila!”
Out on these wide-open spaces—now remote cattle ranges—native people similarly collected Texas sotol. Archaeological evidence reveals that sotol was an essential food for the native people who lived in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands. They baked sotol in roasting pits, and some say there is a petroglyph that depicts people imbibing. Maybe they were drinking fermented sotol. If so, sotol could be the first alcohol produced in North America over 800 years ago.
Sotol, a Superfood?
The ancient ones knew an excellent food source when they had one. According to a study published in 2019, sotol flour has 28% higher protein content, seven times more fat and ten times more fiber than wheat flour. Does that make sotol a ‘superfood?’
How to Distill Sotol
Once harvested, the team trims the leaves and then transports the heart or bulb of the plant to Desert Door Distillery just southwest of Austin, Texas. With the leaves sliced away, the heart looks like a pineapple, and so is called a piña. At Desert Door, distillers steam the piñas, which keeps the flavor light rather than smokey. Tequila and raicilla makers also use steam for cooking agave, whereas mezcal and bacanora makers use earthen roasting pits for the telltale smokey notes.
After steam cooking sotol or agave, distillers press the piñas and put their juice into copper pots. Conversely, mezcal, raicilla and bacanora spirit makers typically ferment roasted agave in clay pots.
Sotol Taste of the Desert
As I mentioned earlier, it’s the sotol plant that gives sotol liquor its unique taste. I found the sotol taste more herbaceous than tequila, perhaps because of the wild growing conditions. It is similar to tequila and mescal, but the sotol taste seems a bit more like a European regional digestif. I’m thinking Spanish orujo de hierbas also called caña that is made of local herbs. So then, I’d describe the sotol taste as a bit earthy and sweet like tequila with the fruiter, herbaceous qualities of orujo or other digestifs such as chartreuse.
'Ranch Water' Cowboy Cocktail made with Texas Sotol
I enjoy drinking sotol neat or in my favorite cowboy cocktail called Ranch Water. It’s an old Texas cocktail that has become popular lately. I found Topo Chica at Basha’s grocery. You just need the small bottle of the beloved (in Texas) lightly salted sparkling water. Simply drink the water down to just below the yellow circle, then pour in the sotol to fill the bottle back up to the top—it’s a perfect 1.5 oz pour! The little bottle measures the cocktail for you.
Authentic Texas Sotol Cocktail Recipe
- 1.5 oz Desert Door Original Texas Sotol
- Bottle of Topo Chico Agua Mineral
- Lime Wedge
Open Topo Chico. Drink or pour out to just below the circle logo on the bottle. Add in Desert Door to top. Squeeze lime.
The dry, arid climate’s hot days and cool nights give Texas sotol its earthy flavors, and you’ll taste the desert terroir with this simple, really refreshing cocktail. Of course, this recipe works for sotol tequilla mescal or other spirits.
The other thing that I like about Desert Door Distillery is that it is veteran-owned. Judson Kauffman, Brent Looby and Ryan Campbell—Texans and military veterans—met at the University of Texas MBA program. That’s where they came up with the idea to resurrect sotol and bring it to the US market. Today they handle every step of the process—from the harvest to crafting the spirit to serving it in their tasting room.
Desert Door produces sotol from outside the Sotol Denomination of Origin in the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango. Desert Door is the only domestically produced sotol on the market. You may visit the distillery and tasting room when you tour Texas wine country outside of Austin.
Find your own Texas sotol at Desert Door Distillery www.desertdoor.com or Total Wine. But whatever you do, don’t call it sotol tequila, sotol yucca or sotol cactus.
If you enjoyed this article, then you’ll love How to Harvest and Prepare Prickly Pear Cactus
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