What’s the difference between Tequila and Sotol?

by | Sep 15, 2014 | Bar Ingredients | 7 comments

Agave based spirits have been gaining in popularity over the years, it seems like every movie star has their own line of tequila on the market. Let’s take a closer look at one of the lesser known agave based spirits, Sotol aka the “Desert Spoon.”

Sotol:

How Tequila is Produced

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 is harvested after 6-8 years and the agave heart is cleaned and roasted to caramelize the natural sugars of the plant.
  • After roasting, the agave is shredded and added to water to make a “sweet water.”
  • Yeast is then added 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 2 times and sometimes 3.
  • After the distillation process, you get a high proof tequila that can either be added to barrels for aging or water can be added to drop the proof to bottling strength and you would have a blanco tequila.
  • Aging is usually done in used bourbon barrels.
  • Below are the age requirements for 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
  • On average the yield of a single agave heart is around 6 liters of Tequila

How Sotol is Different from Tequila:

  • Sotol is only made from wild harvested agave plants found in the region of Chihuahua.
  • Takes 12-15 years to reach maturity, and the average yield per plant is 1 liter.
  • The production of Sotol seems to be very similar to tequila
  • Agave hearts are cleaned and roasted
  • The roasted agave hearts are then shredded and combined with water to begin fermentation.
  • This particular brand of Sotol is fermented using Champagne yeast 
  • 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, or bottled as a plata or puro version of Sotol. This particular producer uses new and used French Oak Barrels commonly used for Cognac aging.

I could not find any age restrictions for Sotol, but it seems to follow the same age requirements as Tequila.

Some interesting notes about Sotol:

It is the name of both the plant and the name of the spirit.

Since the agave is wild harvested, the agave is completely organic and grown without fertilizers or pesticides.

This particular Sotol is also produced as a Kosher product.

Hacienda de Chihuahua bottles their spirit at 38% ABV compared to most tequilas which are bottled at 40% ABV

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)
  • Hint of brine

Overall this is a very different spirit as 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 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 palette. The creaminess of the silver is heavier, almost waxy. The menthol profile is increased as well and the agave flavor is 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

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.

There is not a lot of information about Sotol out there. If you can help with some of the details about the production, regulations or other brands, please add them to the comments below.