In a first for MALT, today we’ll be taking a look at Sotol.
II first learned of this spirit during a recent trip to western Texas. Like mezcal, sotol is distilled from a succulent plant harvested in the wild. Sotol (the plant, also known as the Desert Spoon) grows at high altitudes in the north part of Mexico and the south and western parts of Texas.
The town where we were staying had numerous sotol plants decoratively arranged, one of which graces the photo accompanying this review. I wandered into a bunch of them to take this picture and – let me tell you – I didn’t soon forget the experience. These are tough, nasty, brutal desert plants, with a stinging bite that irritates the skin long after the initial encounter.
Like mezcal, sotol (the beverage) is principally produced at artisanal scale. The plants are selected once they are mature, with the spiky leaves being removed in order to produce a piña. This piña is roasted in earthen ovens, then ground by hand and fermented, and finally distilled.
Unlike agave, sotol plants flower every several years, and do not need to be harvested prior to sexual reproduction. As a consequence, some of the conservation concerns surrounding mezcal are not felt as acutely in the case of sotol. That isn’t a license to consume with abandon, however; plants are still harvested wild and take 15 years to reach maturity. A massive spike in interest in sotol could still result in over-harvesting and devastation of indigenous populations.
In another parallel to mezcal, sotols are produced by maestros and then brought to us by négociant-style houses with their own labels. Clande, the brand of this sotol, engages in this practice. Fortunately for us, they follow the example of the better mezcal brands by providing maximum transparency via an incredibly detailed label.
In this case we have the Purple, which indicates a sotol produced by maestro sotolero Lupe Lopez, whose fingerprint adorns the label.
This sotol is from the Dasylirion wheeleri varietal. It comes from Cuidad Madera in Chihuahua, Mexico, where the sotol grows at 2,110 meters above sea level. The piñas are baked in an underground conical oven before being ground with an axe. Fermentation with spring water and wild yeast occurs in a pine wood fermentation tank. Distillation is done in a copper pot still.
This is bottle number 45 of 48, from lot number 4, fermented in June 2019. It is bottled at 45.3%. I paid $86 for 750 ml.
Clande Sotol Purple (Lupe Lopez)– Review
On the nose: Sweet, sour and stern. There’s a little lemon pound cake in here, as well as some chalky mineral aromas. Confectioners sugar, lime rind, kosher salt, and cleanly vegetal notes abound.
In the mouth: Crisp and clean. Starts very tart, with a mouth-puckering pinch of lime juice. There’s more astringent, tannic green vegetal notes on the middle of the tongue. This has a long and subtle fade, with a salty, roasty note slowly dissipating across the tongue and the back of the mouth.
More elegant than mezcal, with less meaty and smoky notes. This could cut either way depending on your preferences. I’d like to try more of this from different sotoleros in different regions and elevations, to try to discern additional nuances between expressions.
Much like the case of Jason’s aged Cachaça foray, I don’t yet have a fully developed critical framework for Sotol. I’m giving this a middle-of-the-road score without prejudice, as it’s consonant with the intellectual and hedonistic reaction this provoked in me.