Not an agave—not even a cactus—the sotol yields a spirit all its own. (photo by G. Allen Penton)

Sotoleros are the jedi knights of the spirits world: They grow from an ancient and once-vanishing tradition, there aren’t very many of them, and yet the force remains strong with them all. The spirit originated in Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and other northern Mexican states near the Texas and New Mexico borders. While its cousins, tequila and mezcal, are made from agave, this liquor is made from a different plant entirely: the desert spoon shrub, or sotol, botanically closer to an evergreen, but looking and acting a lot like an agave.

The sotol plant is also abundant in west Texas and the Texas hill country, and, in fact, the re-birth of this traditionally Mexican brew is largely being led by distillers north of the border, like the hill country’s Desert Door Distillery. Commercial brands can be hard to find, but ask around and you might acquire a bottle from Por Siempre or Hacienda de Chihuahua.

The plant produces a flower stalk every few years. (photo by D. Martin)

Barreling traditions mimic tequila, with plata, reposado, and anejo approaches, but the unbarreled plata is what most in-the-know aficionados prefer. As with agave-derived products, the strain of desert spoon used influences the flavors, with forest-harvested plants yielding  citrusy-evergreen notes (seemingly in deference to their botanical relatives) and desert-sourced plants delivering a muskier, earthier over note.

Regardless, expect a strong undercurrent of bright, grassy, plant-based funkiness (in the very best sense of the term) if you can get your hands on a bottle of sotol. Most likely that bottle will be from central Texas, so pull on your Tony Llamas, kick it down in a sipped shot, and clean it up with an ice-cold Shiner Bock or Lone Star back.