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Agave-based spirits have been gaining  popularity over the years, from tequila to mezcal. Yet there is a lesser-known spirit– sotol— which many people compare to other Mexican spirits. This causes some confusion because people think sotol is also from the agave plant. But it’s not an agave-based spirit at all!

Rather than being from the agave plant, sotol is made from another desert plant, the sotol plant– otherwise known as the desert spoon plant in English.

Photo via Unsplash

Photo via Unsplash

How Tequila is Produced

Sotol and tequila are both distilled spirits that share some similarities but also have plenty of differences. Before we talk about sotol, let’s cover the general idea of how tequila is made:

  • In order to be called tequila, the spirit must be produced in the area of Jalisco and a few neighboring regions.
  • Blue Weber Agave (“blue agave”) is harvested after 6-8 years, and the wild agave heart is cleaned and roasted (typically in under-ground ovens) to caramelize the natural sugars of the plant.
  • After roasting, the agave is shredded and added to water to make a “sweet water.”
  • Distillers then add yeast to the “sweet water,” and the sugar is converted into alcohol. The conversion of sugar to alcohol is called fermentation.
  • Once the fermentation process stops, the agave based “beer” or “wine,” called aguamiel, is then distilled to increase the alcohol percentage. Most tequila is made in pot stills and distilled at least two times, sometimes three.
  • After the distillation process, you get a high-proof tequila that can then be added to barrels for aging. Otherwise, water can be added to drop the proof to bottling strength, which produces blanco tequila.
  • Aging of the agave distillate is usually done in used bourbon barrels.

Fun fact: On average, the yield of a single agave heart is around 6 liters of tequila.

Photo: Design Pickle/stock.adobe.com

Below are the age requirements a distiller must adhere to for the different categories of tequila:

  • Blanco – No age, up to 2 months of oak aging
  • Reposado – 2 months, up to 1 year
  • Añejo – 1 year, up to 3 years

Super Añejo – Aged for over 3 years

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Photo copyright A Bar Above

How Sotol is Different from Tequila:

  • While both sotol and tequila come from wild plants, sotol is only made from wild-harvested sotol plants (also known as Dasylirion) found in the region of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango. Tequila is, of course, an agave product.
  • It takes 7-10 years for the desert sotol to reach maturity, and the average yield per plant is 1 liter.
  • The production methods of sotol seem to be very similar to tequila.
  • Sotol hearts are cleaned and roasted in an underground pit for up to three days.
  • Unlike tequila, the sotol plant stays intact when the heart is harvested. The agave species, on the other hand, is dug up at the root and needs to be replanted when tequila or mezcal is distilled.
  • The roasted sotol hearts are then shredded and combined with water and yeast to begin fermentation.
  • After fermentation, the aguamiel is then distilled. Sotol uses a double column copper distillation instead of tequila’s pot still.
  • The sotol is distilled 2-3 times, depending on the product.
  • Aging can be done after the distillation to create a barrel-aged sotol, or it can be bottled as a plata or puro version. This particular producer uses new and used French Oak Barrels, commonly used for aging Cognac.

Photo by Dylan Freedom via Unsplash

BASIC CATEGORIES OF SOTOL

The categories of sotol are not dissimilar to those of tequila; there are three basic classifications:

  • Plata or Puro – No age, straight from distillation to the bottle
  • Reposado – Aged several months, up to one year
  • Añejo – Aged for at least one year

Some interesting notes about Sotol:

  • It is the name of both the plant and the name of the spirit.
  • Since the sotol plant is wild-harvested, the plant is completely organic and grown without fertilizers or pesticides.
  • Hacienda de Chihuahua bottles their spirit at 38% ABV, while most tequilas are bottled at 40% ABV.

Photo copyright A Bar Above

Sot0l Taste Test

Hacienda De Chihuahua Sotol Silver:

The Smell :

  • Light mesquite, smoky quality
  • Sweet savory aroma – Think pork ribs

The Taste:

  • Smooth and mellow
  • Creamy
  • Vanilla
  • Menthol (Eucalyptus herbaceous notes)
  • Hint of brine

Comparison to tequila: Overall this is a very different spirit compared to tequila. With tequila, I brace myself, waiting for that big pepper and citrus burn as well as a pronounced alcohol profile. With this bottle of sotol, there is a much more mellow and creamy focus. There is considerable weight on the palate when compared to a blanco tequila.

    Hacienda De Chihuahua Sotol Reposado:

    The Smell :

    • Much more savory than the silver
    • Salted meat – think Chicken Top Ramen seasoning packet or Teriyaki beef jerky. I know it’s weird, but that’s what I’m getting
    • Eucalyptus
    • Vanilla

    The Taste

    • Cream
    • Vanilla
    • Eucalyptus
    • Cooked agave
    • Hints of orange rind
    • Brine

    The barrel-aging of this sotol amplifies the weight on the palate. The creaminess of the silver is heavier, almost waxy. The menthol profile is increased as well, and the sotol plant flavor has a vanilla quality. The finish is long, and a bitter orange rind develops late. What a fun spirit with a lot of complexity!

    Hacienda De Chihuahua Sotol Platinum

    The Smell :

    • Much cleaner and crisper aroma when compared to the Sotol Silver
    • Aromatic herbs
    • White Pepper
    • Floral

    The Taste

    • Rosemary
    • Citrus – Orange creamsicle
    • Apricot
    • Mint

    Photo by Alena Plotnikova via Unsplash

    Overall, this is a beautiful spirit that is very different from tequila. I usually only sample about 1/4 of an ounce when I taste a spirit, but I managed to finish the 1 oz sample that I poured myself. This spirit has a long finish and plenty of complexity throughout. It’s like a road trip, long and winding, with some beautiful viewing areas along the way.

    Unlike the smoky flavor of mezcal or the bright, biting flavor of tequila, sotol’s flavor profile is softer, creamier, and more herbal in general. It’s a really unique and delicious spirit that I can’t wait to sip again– or maybe even try in a mixed drink. 

    What have you made with sotol? Let us know in our community group or in the comments!

     

     

    *** We have updated this blog post in January 2022, and have corrected any misinformation it previously had from 2014 (Yikes! We feel ancient.)  

    We’re just a bunch of regular people who love making classy drinks. Join us!

    Chris Tunstall

    Co-Founder of A Bar Above and career bartender and mixologist. I love experimenting, creating cocktails, and drinking Green Chartreuse.