Sotol, the distilled alcoholic beverage, originates from Mexico and the southern parts of the US. The spirit is made from the Dasylirion wheeleri plant, also known as sotol or the Desert Spoon. Dasylirion wheeleri thrives in Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and surrounding areas. It is the state drink of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila de Zaragoza.
The plant is an evergreen bush that grows relatively slowly. Dasylirion wheeleri has a strong stem that can grow up to 15 3/4″ (40 cm). The leaves of the plant are gray-green, very elongated, blade-like, going out in all directions, spiky. The leaves can grow from between 13 3/4″ (35 cm) to 39 1/2″ (100 cm). The coloration of the plant's flowers indicates its sex. The females are often pink to violet colored, and the males - white. The fruit is an oval, dry capsule, reaching up to 5/16" in length, containing a single seed.
Dasylirion wheeleri is usually grown as a decorative plant. It prefers warmer climes; continuous colder temperatures are not good for it. It thrives best in orchards. The locals use the leaves of the plant as decoration and to weave baskets. They can also be used as a food source, although lately, they are mostly used to make the Sotol spirit.
History of Sotol
The plant which is now used to produce Sotol was highly valued by the locals thousands of years ago. Proof of this are drawings on walls depicting it. In addition during archaeological digs, they've found baskets, ropes, mats and other objects, proving that the plant was an important resource for the natives of Mexico.
But even the Sotol spirit itself has a lengthy history. Chihuahuan natives would make a drink from the juice of the Dasylirion wheeleri as early as 800 years ago. It was comparable to beer. The final version of Sotol was perfected during the 16th century when Spanish colonists introduced the European method of distillation. This ultimately led to the beverage we have today. Initially it was looked on with distrust by the Europeans but today it is recognized worldwide just like tequila and mezcal are.
Production of Sotol
The production of Sotol is no easy task. First and foremost it takes about 15 years for Dasylirion wheeleri to ripen to the point where it can be used to make an alcoholic drink. In addition one plant yields only enough alcohol for one bottle. Unlike agave which blooms once in its life, Dasylirion wheeleri blooms once every few years.
Once the plant matures, it is treated like an agave plant that would be used to make tequila. The leaves are removed to allow the middle part to grow larger. The core is cut and heat treated.
Afterwards, the obtained liquid is mixed with water to allow fermentation to take place. Next comes distillation. It is carried out 2 or 3 times, depending on the particular product. Then the alcohol can be left to age or be bottled in specialized glass bottles.
Types of Sotol
Depending on the age of the alcoholic it is divided into 3 main categories:
- Plata - this is a Sotol that has been made very recently. It possesses slightly smoked tones. Its taste is soft and pleasant, reminiscent of menthol and vanilla.
- Reposado - this is a Sotol that has aged several months or one year at most. Its profile is more clearly distinguished than Sotol Plata. Its aroma is akin to vanilla and eucalyptus. Its taste is associated with the same components as boiled agave and cream.
- Añejo - this is a Sotol that has been aged 1 to 7 years. It has the most distinct aroma when compared to the other 2 varieties. It is flamboyant, reminding of aromatic herbs and white pepper. Its taste is associated with rosemary, citruses, mint and apricot. When aged a long time, the color of the alcoholic changes to a golden one.
Sotol can be served slightly cooled to about 63°F (17°C), with the actual temperature varying depending on the age of the drink. It is poured into small glasses. Ice can be added upon serving if desired.
Cocktails with Sotol
Sotol is consumed as a standalone but can be mixed with other drinks such as tequila, white rum, gin and vodka. It goes well with juices from lime, orange, lemon, cactus, kiwi, pears and melon. It is found in a number of cocktails that can instantly make a person's legs become wobbly.
Here is an idea for a cocktail with Sotol which you can use to break the ice during a party.
Ingredients: 1 part Sotol, 3 parts grapefruit juice, 3 parts sparkling water, several ice cubes, several orange slices.
Preparation: Put the Sotol, grapefruit juice and sparkling water in a blender. Blend and pour it into tall glasses containing ice. Decorate them with the orange slices.