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Sotol is a distilled spirit made from the Dasylirion wheeleri, Asparagaceae (commonly known as Desert Spoon or, in Spanish, sotol), a plant that grows in northern Mexico, New Mexico, west Texas, and the Texas Hill Country. It is known as the state drink of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila. There are few commercial examples available. It is produced in a manner similar to the more common artisanal mezcals of central Mexico. The flowering stem of sotol is one of the best materials for making a friction fire, as it is straight, light in weight, and strong. As it is straight, the stem requiring little to no straightening prior to use, it was commonly used as a lance and spear, the latter with an attached stone or metal point.
At the Fate Bell Shelter, which is on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, sotol is depicted in paintings on the rock walls. Sandals, baskets, ropes, mats, and many other items of sotol fiber show that it was a highly important resource to Ancient Pueblo Peoples of the Basketmaker culture. These artifacts date to around 7000 BCE.
The base of a cooked sotol stem may be eaten rather like an artichoke leaf (by scraping across the front teeth). This remnant, called a "quid", resembles a spoon and can be used as one. Archaeological sites where "Desert Spoon" was eaten in this way are full of discarded quids thousands of years old.
Sotol and lechuguilla flower-stalks used as atlatl dart hindshafts were found in Ceremonial Cave (Hueco Mountains, near El Paso, Texas). Sotol may also have been affiliated with fire; the sotol stem was used as a fireplow.
A humanoid figure with a spray of spiky leaves for a head and a black stripe down the middle of its body may represent the magical spirit of sotol. Sometimes it appears in connection with hunting scenes, at others it appears surrounded by orange ochre flames and black smoke.
The presence in these rock shelters of troughs a half meter long and four centimeters deep, along with mounds of quids, suggests the production of beverages with sotol as far back as 9000 years ago. The Fate Bell Shelter murals may, in part, be a tribute to the remarkable usefulness of sotol.
Chihuahuan Indians fermented sotol juice into a beer-like alcoholic beverage as early as 800 years ago. In the 16th century, Spanish colonists introduced European distillation techniques to produce a spirit. Sotol is now beginning to achieve international recognition like its cousins, mezcal and tequila. Time Magazine reported in a footnote to an article in its July 23, 1934 edition that sotol is "a distilled liquor made in Mexico from a yucca-like plant", explaining Hugh S. Johnson's claim that in Mexico he had seen "savages" intoxicated with sotol and marijuana commit atrocities comparable to an incident in Nazi Germany where men had been taken from their homes and shot to death.
The Desert Spoon takes approximately 15 years to mature and yields only one bottle of sotol per plant. It typically grows on rocky slopes in the Chihuahuan desert grassland between 3,000 and 6,500 feet above sea level. Unlike agave, which flowers only once in its lifetime, sotols produce a flower stalk every few years. Once the plant matures, it is harvested like agave plants when mezcal or tequila are to be made. The outer leaves are removed to reveal the center core, which is taken back to the distillery. The core can then be cooked and/or steamed, shredded, fermented, and distilled.
An example of a final product is Sotol La Promesa.
- Plata – Un-aged, straight from distillation to the bottle.
- Reposado (rested) – Aged several months to a year.
- Añejo – Aged for at least one year
- "THE CABINET: Individual Johnson". TIME. 1934-07-23. Retrieved 2013-07-25.(subscription required)