Sotol Shots

Sotol and the difference to Tequila and Mezcal

By Timo Torner / Last updated on June 24, 2022 
Sotol is one of the lesser-known spirits from Mexico. Only recently, it started to gain international traction. But unlike the more popular spirits, this one is not made from agave.

Sotol could be the new rising star in the sky when it comes to spirits from Mexico. It certainly started gaining traction recently.

Of course, everybody knows Tequila, the spirit made from the blue weber agave in Jalisco. Mezcal is also already established in the market. 

So with Sotol, we got another traditional Mexican spirit trying to conquer the bars of the world. But what the heck is it?

What is Sotol?

It is a clear to amber-colored spirit from Mexico made from the so-called Dasylirion wheeleri plant. It is widely popular in Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuila and is often compared to Tequila and Mezcal

There are three different categories of Sotol: Plata, Reposado, and Añejo. As with Tequila, they refer to the aging duration.

  • Plata means unaged
  • Reposado means aged for several months up to 1 year
  • Añejo means aged for at least one year 

Is Sotol made of agave?

When talking about Sotol, you often hear that it is another agave-based spirit, like Tequila and Mezcal.

Yet, contrary to common belief, is not an agave-based spirit. -Even though the mix-up is not as far-fetched as some might want you to think. In fact, there's a good reason why people link Sotol to agave plants.

In fact, Sotol is made of the plant Dasylirion wheeleri, better known as desert spoon or, descriptively, Sotol. 

Sotol Desert Spoon

This genus looks similar to agave and once also officially belonged to the agave subfamily. After closer examination, scientists reclassified it and considered it part of the Nolinaceae subfamily.

And even that seems to have changed a short while ago, as now it is part of the Ruscaceae. A somewhat complicated family history, I say.

Anyway, the bottom line is that -at least currently- the desert spoon plant is not considered an agave plant. And I am glad we cleared that one up. 

What also becomes apparent from this whole story is that Sotol still must have a lot in common with agave spirits. After all, there was a time it was just that.

Different flavors of Sotol

Sotol plants that grow in forests have a different flavor profile than desert-grown plants. So the outcome highly depends on where the raw product is harvested. 

Plants from the forest tend to have notes of mint and eucalyptus, whereas its desert-grown brothers have more leathery and earthy notes.

Sotol curados are sweeter versions of the spirit, almost like a liqueur, and are traditionally drunk after dinner. Those are often flavored with pecan, raisins, or cinnamon and infused with herbs and botanicals. 

Dry sotols are sometimes even flavored with snake venom, snake meat, or spiced beef. 

The addition of beef, in particular, can add a whole new layer of flavor to the spirit. You certainly will be able to taste it in the final product.

How to drink Sotol

Like Mezcal and Tequila, quality Sotol can be enjoyed neat. Mexicans often serve it with a beer on the side as a refreshment.

Sotol

If you want to do Sotol shots, you can serve them with a lime on the side. And due to the more or less similar flavor, you can use it as a substitute in Tequila cocktails.

How is Sotol different from Tequila and Mezcal?

As explained, the desert spoon plant used to be considered an agave. Since 1934, to be precise. Almost 60 years later, it was reclassified and got its own family tree.

But apart from not officially being classified as agave, the desert spoon genius looks pretty similar to the plant. It has a piña like agave plants and is processed similarly to piñas from an agave. 

So, where is the difference after all?

Produced with wild-harvested plants

The roots of the spirit are in Chihuahua. But the plant is growing anywhere between Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico in the US, down to Oaxaca in southern Mexico. 

Compared to Tequila, the main difference in the production is the harvesting process: Sotol plants are harvested wild, which makes the production of Sotol a lot harder. 

The plants need about 12-15 years to reach maturity (compared to 6-8 years for blue weber agave). And as they are growing in the wild, they are vulnerable to being eaten by rodents. 

Sotol Desert Spoon

In addition to that difficulty, the reproduction process is rather complicated and relies on the wind to cross-pollinate male and female plants. 

Also, Sotol plants stay intact, whereas agave plants are dug out and replanted afterward. So Sotol is more sustainable in that regard.

How does Sotol taste compared to Tequila?

Comparing Sotol to its cousins Tequila and Mezcal, it is closer to Tequila. It’s usually bright, lightly grassy. But it also carries the flavors of the terroir.

If you taste it in a cocktail, it might be hard to tell the difference between Sotol and Tequila. You have to try them pure to get the different flavors.

Finally, if you like to try Sotol and learn more about individual brands and their production, check out these three:

Los Magos Sotol

Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol

Flor del Desierto Sotol

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