Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Move Over Tequila & Mezcal, Here Comes Sotol

I've lamented before how smoky Mezcal seems to often be overshadowed by the more popular Tequila. Despite the quality and versatility of Mezcal, a number of Mexican restaurants carry few, if any Mezcals, and rarely showcase it in cocktails. Fortunately, there are some Mexican spots which believe in Mezcal as much as they believe in Tequila. Ole Mexican Grilllocated in Inman Square, is one such restaurant and they have an impressive selection of this intriguing alcohol. Last night, I attended an event at Ole and also spent some time, before and after the event, on my own at the bar, sampling a few selections.

The Mezcal Vago Elote ($14) is an unusual Mezcal which is infused with roasted corn that is grown on the estate, With a mild smokiness, the sweetness and flavor of the corn is prominent, enhanced by some herbal and citrus notes. This would be a nice introductory Mezcal, as the smokiness is restrained and the slight sweetness makes it a bit more mellow. For Mezcal lovers, it presents a more unique taste profile which should intrigue and satisfy.

Mezcal may be much less common than Tequila, but there are other Mexican spirits which are even rarer. In fact, last night at Ole was my first time encountering two such spirits, Raicilla and Sotol. Raicilla, made in Jalisco, is produced from the agave plant though it doesn't qualify for the legal definition of Tequila or Mezcal. In some respects, it is considered the moonshine version of Mezcal. Ole carries two Raicilla products from La Venenosa though I didn't try either of them. I will remedy that on my next visit to Ole, but I did try the other spirit, Sotol.

Sotol is produced only in the state of Chihuahua, and has a history extending back approximately 800 years. It is made from a different type of agave, a wild variety known as Dasylirion Wheeleri, which grows in the Chihuahua Desert, usually on rocky slopes, as well as parts of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. This variety is more commonly known as Desert Spoon and in Spanish it is known as Sotol, so the name of the spirit is the same as the plant.

It takes about 15 years for the Desert Spoon to mature and then it is harvested to make Sotol, though one plant yields only a single bottle of Sotol. In comparison, the typical Blue Agave plant yields about eight bottles of tequila, meaning that Sotol production is much lower than Tequila. Like Tequila, it comes in various age classifications, including Plata (unaged), Reposado (several months to a year), and Anejo (aged at least one year). It also is usually about 76 proof, making it slightly less alcoholic than a typical Tequila or Mezcal.

I tried the Hacienda de Chihuahua Plata ($9), which is pictured above, and the distillery has been around since 1881. The Desert Spoon plants they harvest are all wild and their Sotol is certified Organic by the USDA. It also has a Kosher certification. During the production process, Champagne yeasts are used and the Sotol may be double or triple distilled, dependent on the bottling. For those they age, they use new French oak, and age one of their bottlings, the H5, for at least five years. The Plata is their unaged version, giving a pure taste of the Sotol.

Speaking to the bartender at Ole, it seems the Sotol needed some time to breathe when it first came to the restaurant, initially being too rough and almost off putting. But with some air and time, that roughness largely vanished and it became a much more mellow spirit. I felt that its aroma reminded me of tequila, with pleasant herbal notes. On the palate, it was fairly smooth with only a subtle bite, mostly on the finish. The flavors were intriguing, with nutty notes, plenty of herbs and some rustic, earthy elements. It is definitely a cousin to Tequila but possesses its own distinctiveness. I very much enjoyed it and want to seek out more Sotol.

I was also intrigued to learn that Genius Gin, a Texas distillery, is starting to produce Texas Sotol. As the Desert Spoon plant grows in a few U.S. states, it isn't a surprise that a U.S. distillery has decided to create their own version of Sotol.

For now, seek out Mexican Sotol and Ole Mexican Grill can help you explore this spirit.

Does anyone else know any other restaurants or liquor stores which carry Sotol?

No comments: