Sometimes described as tequila's crazy little brother, you're definitely going to want sotol to spice up your weekend ragers.
If your knowledge of drinking tequila ends with "salt-shot-lime," then here's a quick tutorial.
Chances are, if you are drinking your way through the city, you've probably seen mezcal popping up near high end tequilas, and mixed in with your margs.
So here’s the deal… All tequila is mezcal, but not all mezcal is tequila.
A simplified way of understanding this factoid is that tequila comes from a certain region and from a specific agave plant, the Blue Agave.
Mezcal is a more general term for the production and distillation process of many agave varietals from many of regions throughout Mexico. This is what makes the flavor profiles so distinctive, and to American tongues, more complex and smoky than most tequilas.
So what the heck is sotol, and why are you going to want to drink it? Sotol is brand new to the states with distribution and availability only really starting this year. So congrats, you are now ahead of the curve in the spirits game.
As someone that drinks and writes about spirits often, I had no idea what this new spirit was all about, so I got Danny Mena, NYC restaurateur and co-founder of Mezcales de Leyenda and Fabriquero Sotol, on the line to give me an expert's run down on all this agave anarchy.
Danny informed that in Mexico, small distillers with subtle differences in production process are all over the country. The reason why many of these agave spirits taste so different is because they really are different.
“The hand of the distiller makes the bigger difference in Mexican spirits because each distiller is still so small, everything is local, and this changes the flavor by brand.” I can attest that even when tasting Danny’s brand Mezcales de Leyenda, the mezcal distilled in the Guerrero region was lighter and refreshing versus the Oaxaca region versus smoky deeper flavor.
I asked Danny if you could taste regional distinction in flavor, as one might be able to do with wine– the answer was “not really.” Even within regions, the distilleries all operate autonomously with their own methodology to the traditional production process (which we won’t get into here), giving them their own signature taste.
Mezcal, which was originally just a local Mexican spirit, became less bucolic after some of the very first mezcal bars opened in Mexico City about ten years ago. One of which was Danny’s La Botica, which now has six locations. Mezcal worked its way north over the years once people realized its diversity in flavor.
The thirst for more unique Mexican spirits led Danny to sotol through his continual exploration of the country's spirits. The biggest difference between sotol, tequila, and mezcal is that it's actually not from the agave plant.
It’s from a similar but different species called the Dasylirion Wheeleri, commonly referred to as the Desert Spoon. The wood that these plants (Agave & Desert Spoon) are cooked in prior to fermentation are what gives them the smoky flavor. For example, lots of mesquite, means lots of smokiness.
Another distinction of sotol is that this plant only hails from three regions of Mexico– Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Durango. These are foraged in the wild, so think about a guy with an axe going out to a field to harvest these suckers when you wonder why it costs more than $30 per bottle. And that's on the low end, a bottle of Fabriquero Sotol goes for around $65 per bottle.
One more pro-tip: Crack open the bottle when you find one, taste it, then let it breath a little bit. Higher proof spirits characteristics will change with a little bit with some air.
Distribution just started within the last month, so it won’t be that easy to find for now, but when you do see it, now you'll know what's up.[Feature Image Courtesy Tales Of The Cocktail]