Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin
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Move over mezcal, sotol is Mexico’s new classic drink

Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Ricardo Pico, founder of Clande, sits with one of his sotol producers, Bienvenido Fernandez. Pico says that the future of the spirit is not in the brand owners but in the master sotoleros and their ability to teach the next generation.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Bienvenido Fernandez was born in Sierra Madre, a three-day horse ride to the mountain town of Madera, where his vinata is located. Sotol made here in the forest region is typically described as greener in aroma and flavor.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Though some people make sotol year-round, Salvador Derma says a quality product can only be produced during a three- to four-month season each year. Here, his partner Daniel Chavera monitors distillation.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Raw sotol heads are cooked in a rock-lined earth oven, seen here at the Jacquez family vinata in Janos, fired by mesquite or oak.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

The slow maturation of the Dasylirion means that sotol producers are increasingly thinking about sustainable cultivation. Miguel Olivas, a botanist at the Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua, has developed an experimental plantation to encourage local farmers to establish their own sotol fields.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Sotol production is often a family business, as illustrated by cousins Daniel Chavira and Salvador Derma, two of five members of a sotol cooperative that produces Lazadores in Potrero.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

On steep slopes where trucks cannot pass easily, sotol is still typically gathered with the help of a donkey.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Master sotolero Bienvenido Fernandez is a staple in his town of Madera. Each June, he hosts a sotol celebration, “El Burrito Sotolero,” where donkey-drawn carts take to the streets and a cocktail made with the spirit is served to enthusiastic locals.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Though commercial sotol is gaining traction, the spirit is still frequently sold direct from the source to members of the local community.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Jacobo Jacquez leads his family’s vinata in Janos, Mexico, producing sotol for a variety of brands, including their own Don Cuco.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

As seen at the Jacquez family vinata in Janos, the juice and pulp from baked sotol heads sits in pailas, or wood-lined fermentation vats, for three to seven days before the distillation process begins.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Workers at the Jacquez family vinata in Janos shred baked sotol heads with a machine before loading them into fermentation vats. More traditionally, this process is completed with a special type of ax.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
Say hello to sotol, mezcal’s wild cousin

Sotol is still primarily wild harvested, though some producers are beginning to adopt an agricultural approach to cultivation.

 (James Burke and Molly Mandell)
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