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What is Sotol and How is it Different from Tequila?

Mexican spirits continue to gain popularity across the United States. Surely you’ve tried tequila, and perhaps you’ve learned about mezcal and given that a try, too. But have you heard of Sotol?

What is Sotol?

Sotol is a lesser-known Mexican spirit that’s quickly gaining the attention of restaurant goers. Unlike mezcal and tequila which are produced using the agave plant, sotol is produced using the sotol plant. That’s right, sotol is the name of the spirit and the plant it’s made from. Other names for the sotol plant include the desert spoon or spoon flower. Its scientific name is dasylirion wheeleri.

Sotol is native to northern Mexico, in Chihuahua and Sonoro, as well as the southwestern deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and some parts of Texas. The plant thrives in dry, arid, and rocky environments. Technically, sotol is a shrub that grows a single flowering stem that’s up to 16 inches thick and five feet tall.

Sotol the spirit is clear to amber-colored and comes in three categories: Plata (or Puro), Reposada, and Anejo. The Plata variety is not aged at all. It goes straight to the bottle after distillation. Reposada is aged for a few months and up to one year. Anejo is aged for at least one year.

The flavor of sotol varies depending on where the plant is grown. You may find that it tastes grassy, earthy, leathery, peppery, or even spicy when the plant is grown in a desert-region. However, plants that are grown in slightly greener areas can have more piney, menthol, mushroomy, or eucalyptus vibes to them.

How Do You Drink Sotol?

It’s common to enjoy sotol neat and we recommended it so you can experience the full flavor of this up-and-coming spirit. After that, rocks are fine. It’s common in Mexico for a bar-goer to have a neat glass of sotol with a beer on the side. Shots of sotol should be served with a lime and if you are curious, it’s perfectly fine to use sotol as a substitute for any cocktail that contains tequila.

How Sotol is Different Than Tequila

Beyond the obvious difference that sotol is made from the sotol plant and tequila is made from agave, there are some other interesting differences that affect the end product.

One of the key differences is that sotol plants are harvested in the wild, as opposed to agave which is farmed. Sotol plants are also left to grow for up to 15 years while agave is only grown for six to eight years. Adding to this, wild sotol plants are susceptible to being eaten by rodents, and only reproduce through natural cross-pollination. This makes sotol harvesting much trickier than agave.

Average yield from one sotol plant is only one liter, while a single agave plant may yield five liters of tequila. At this point, production of sotol and tequila becomes more similar. Plant hearts are cleaned and roasted in an underground pit, the roasted hearts are shredded and fermentation is initiated. However, after fermentation, the distillation process of the two spirits is different. Sotol utilizes a double column copper distillation process while tequila uses a pot still. In the end, sotol and tequila wind up tasting like two different spirits…because they are!

Where to try Sotol?

If you’re in New York City, come on down to our restaurant, Mezcali in the Financial District of Manhattan. We offer a wide variety of sotol and are extremely excited for you to try it. Come have a glass neat to get a feel for this wonderful spirit, and then try using it as a substitute in your favorite tequila-based cocktail.

And when you are done, try our amazing selection of mezcal and tequila, too!

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