Remember when premium tequila was the hot chick in the room that everyone totally wanted to... um... hold open doors for? But then mezcal showed up in a mini skirt and a push-up bra, and everyone was like, "Dude, I totally want to... politely stand up when it leaves the table." Well, forget all that, because there's a Mexican super-spirit about to show up to the party so naked, you'll want to... courteously pull its chair out! Its name? Sotol (aka "Desert Spoon"), a smoother cousin of tequila that has the complexity of mezcal without the overpowering smoky flavors
Photo from SummitPost.org
Intoxicating indigenous Mexicans for over 800yrs, sotol is made solely from wild-growing agavaceae, whose spired flowers can top 15ft and which populates the landscape of northern Mexico and the Southern US -- but, thanks to Champagne-like rules, can only be harvested and processed in the state of Chihuahua to make sure its easy-drinking bite matches the state's somewhat puny bark. Once the flowers have matured (15yrs as opposed to 8 for agave), they're processed in much the same way as mezcal or tequila -- by totally snubbing the Ninas and Santa Marias in favor of steaming just the pinas, or hearts, which can also be eaten much like center of an artichoke
Once the hearts are steamed for up to three days, the juice is fermented for up to two weeks, double distilled in copper pots, then bottled immediately (designated as "plata"), or aged in new French white oak barrels. Although it's produced in much smaller quantities than its sister spirits, it's still relatively friendly on the home mixologist's wallet -- solid anejos (aged +1yr) are procurable for under 35 bones. Drink it straight up, substitute for tequila in a margarita, or attempt one of these three cocktails created by barkeep Brent Dobey from Takoba in Austin, TX
Numero Uno: Go Old Fashioned by wearing a top hat, using a monocle, and drinking this combination of Hacienda de Chihuahua anejo, agave nectar, Xocolatl Mole bitters, and Hellfire Habanero Shrub.
Numero Dos: Showcasing the spirit's ability to substitute for gin (yes, it can do that too), the Desert Collins uses reposado, spiced tonic from locals Liber & Co, and lime juice.
Annnnnnd Numero Tres: The Sotol Summer is loaded with reposado, Cherry Heering, fresh orange & lime, and a double dose of grapefruit via local flavored bitters and a squeeze of flamed zest.