Get to Know Sotol, the Dangerously Delicious Cousin of Tequila and Mezcal

Over the central plaza of Chihuahua City, the capital of the Mexican border state of Chihuahua, someone has painted a brightly colored mural of—what else?—a chihuahua. The diminutive, skittish canine is somewhat the antithesis of the state it’s named after; Chihuahua, you see, is a dry and rugged place, where cowboy culture developed amidst canyons, deserts, and the sierra. And perhaps nothing better represents this than the local spirit, sotol—the dangerously delicious cousin of tequila and mezcal.

“Understanding sotol is a way to understand the magical essence of Chihuahua,” says Juan Pablo Carvajal, a young sotol entrepreneur whose brand’s name—Los Magos, or “The Magicians”—encapsulates this idea. Carvajal is part of a young generation of sotol enthusiasts who are trying to bring the spirit from the rural Chihuahuan countryside to the rest of Mexico, and eventually, to the world.

Just blocks from the mural, the city’s hippest bar, La Sotoleria, is leading the charge.

“I didn’t want to open a normal American- or European-style bar, nor a typical Mexican cantina, the kind you see in the movies with cowboys and donkeys,” says owner Armando Marin. “I wanted do something contemporary that also touched into Chihuahua’s northern tradition.”

When the conquistadors crossed the Atlantic to Mexico, they brought the process of distillation along with them, leading to the development of sotol. The spirit is named for the desert sotol plant from which it is made, unlike agave-based mezcal and tequila.

At La Sotoleria, Marin houses cured blends whose tastes range from sweet like liqueur to smooth, high-percentage distillations with no after-bite. He is especially proud of one exotic flavor that he sourced from the nearby distillery Oro de Coyame. Named Elixer, the sotol is made with 27 local herbs—two of which are marijuana and peyote.