Sotol: Mexico’s Desert Spoon Spirit

By Sean Kenniff | Megan Swann


Sean Kenniff
Megan Swann
Bartender Erik Hakkinen of Seattle's Zig Zag Cafe mixes his equal parts sotol/tequila cocktail
Bartender Erik Hakkinen of Seattle's Zig Zag Cafe mixes his equal parts sotol/tequila cocktail

Once upon a time in America, before the great cocktail re-awakening, bar patrons slept-walked into dives with the back of thumbs wetted and winced down shots of Cuervo. That was the extent of most people’s experience with Mexican spirits. Dale DeGroff’s Anejo High Ball is a drink that helped to change tastes and perspectives on tequila. Philip Ward’s Oaxacan Old Fashioned helped enlightened the world of mezcal—now a staple and favorite. Today, bartenders are making room on their back bars for sotol.

“I think sotol’s popularity has a great deal to do with that of mezcal, especially now that people are becoming more comfortable with richer, more dynamic spirits,” says Bartender Erik Hakkinen of Seattle’s Zig Zag Cafe. Hakkinen was inspired by the Oaxacan Old Fashioned to make his sotol drink, the translucent Durango Old Fashioned. Sotol is made much the same way as mezcal or tequila, but it is not distilled from agave. Flowering desert spoon plants yield sotol (it may be cooked above or below ground, or steamed before distilling), and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango are the only ones designated as sotol producers. Most sotols are distilled from desert spoon cultivation, with each plant producing about one bottle of the spirit at around the same ABV as tequila, about 40 percent. Sotol Por Siempre—Hakkinen’s sotol producer of choice—harvests wild desert spoon plants which take 15 years to mature, and has notes of black pepper, earth, and wet stone with a rich, chewy texture and long smoky finish. Generally, a bottle of sotol costs about 20 to 25 percent less than an equivalent quality tequila.   

For his Durango Old Fashioned, Hakkinene mixes 1½ ounces Sotol Por Siempre, 1½ ounces Tapatio 110 tequila, dash each chocolate and peach bitters, and ¼ ounce Demerara syrup. “Sotol Por Siempre is perfect for this drink because it adds those earthy, grassy notes without being overbearing or under-expressive, and it’s tempered well by the Tapatio,” he says.

“Typically I drink sotol neat with a beer, but it works well as a substitute for mezcal in cocktails,” Hakkinen says. “But it also works surprisingly well with aromatized wines and vermouth in stirred drinks. For my money it works really well with Bonal, too.” After stirring with ice and straining into a rocks glass with more ice, Hakkinen finishes his Durango Old Fashioned with a lemon peel and a Luxardo cherry. Sip slowly and keep your thumbs dry.  

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