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Clande Sotol Purple (Lupe Lopez)

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

Color: Crystal

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.

Conclusions

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.

Score: 5/10

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Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

  1. John
    John says:

    Great review Taylor,

    Nice to see more underrated malternatives.
    Bottle 45 of 48? That’s a very small batch. Any idea how many plants it took to make that batch?

  2. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    John, good eye; these are extremely small batches. I reached out to Clande for more info but haven’t heard back from them. Hopefully they’ll see this and we can get some additional facts. Stay tuned!

  3. Avatar

    Interesting article at a time when mezcal has been mentioned to me as something, maybe, to pursue. Being a massive Scotch fan (all types, smoky, bourbon, sherry), I’m finding it difficult to compare the flavours of “your”sotol favourably against my go to spirits. Similarly, it’s tricky to pick a mezcal as an introduction as descriptions/comments on whisky retailers sites often pick out many undesirable flavours (probably maltheads with a more exacting range of acceptable smells and tastes) which leaves me uneasy with parting with cash on a whim versus spending £50 on a safe bet Springbank. Any mezcal suggestions? ( I’ve had a couple from a solid source who set the mezcal seed in the first place. It will be pure serendipity if you concur “blind” so to speak, to the point where I will definitely buy a bottle). Keep up the good work. Slanjeevaurus Mick

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Mick, glad you enjoyed the review. Check out the several mezcal reviews on this site; personally I can recommend Los Danzantes and Marca Negra among some of the labels I favor. Be sure to try varieties other than Espadín. Cheers!

      1. Avatar

        Thanks, Taylor. Thankfully (!?) your reply has left me with no obligation to purchase – previous tips being Papa Diablo and quiquiriqui (which looks affordable for a first dip). If there is any merit in that area of spirits (I’m still doubtful on account of my Scotch bias) I don’t want to dismiss it by trying something ropey. I will research further starting with the Malt reviews. Cheers, Mick.

        1. Taylor
          Taylor says:

          Buena suerte, Mick. Feel free to reach out via DM to me or Jason if you’re contemplating a purchase and would like a second opinion.

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