Agave Club: A look at Sotol por Siempre

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Agave Club: A look at Sotol por Siempre

LIVING THE AGAVE LIFE IN SF:  I’m walking to a fundraiser at the Elbo Room when I approach the intersection of Valencia and 18th.  I didn’t realize how close Elbo Room was to the mezcal slinging burros at Mosto, a small but energetic mezcal bar inside Tacolicious.  When I walk in, my boy Teddy steps out from the business side and gives me a big hug and before you know it we’re sipping Rey Campero Espadin, Mi Casa Blanco and Marca Negra Tepeztate.  We end up closing down the shop and after a brief dance session at the Elbo Room we find ourselves in the apartment of a beautiful woman named Elenna talking about life while reggae music plays from the tiny speakers of touch screen phones.

There is no sleep.  Just tequila, mezcal and conversation. And it’s good.

•••

Well it’s April and if you ask me, it came early or maybe time just goes faster these days.  This month we are drinking Sotol por Siempre, it is a casual step outside of the agave genus because Sotol is not technically an agave but clearly belongs in the club because it’s delicious and shares much with it’s cousin, the agave spirit.

I was lucky enough to interview the distiller and the importer for this release and I hope you enjoy learning about this beautiful spirit.

INTERVIEW WITH JACOB JACQUEZ

Perhaps you could introduce yourself to my readers, tell us a little about your role and how you got your start distilling?

My name is Jacob Jacquez and I’m a Master Distiller of Por Siempre Sotol.  Distilling Sotol is a family tradition which dates back six generations and which is now my profession.  The distillation of Sotol is an art form that requires knowledge, experience and the craftsmanship of all aspects of the distillation process.  The process includes harvesting, pruning, roasting and grinding of the pina to create a mash.   The mash is then fermented and finished with a 1st and 2nd distillation process.  The craftsmanship of each of the steps is critical in the production of an excellent Sotol.

Can you talk a little about the history of Sotol , the how, where, when and why it came to be? Is Sotol an agave varietal?  Maybe who the founding members  of Siempre Sotol were, what it took to get everything off the ground. And I always like to ask about a distillery’s water source, and if that played a role in finding the location.

The distillery is named the Compania Elaboradora de Sotol and is located at the town of Janos, Chihuahua the site of a the historic Presidio of Janos established in 1696 by the Spanish Military and the site of one of the best underground aquifers in the Americas,  the Deming Aquifer.  Sotol Por Siempre was introduced by the Back Bar Project.  They found and expression of Sotol that they loved and wanted to introduce it to the world.

Sotol is made from the pina of the Sotol plant which is not an agave plant.  Although many categorize it as an agave because it is a succulent plant.  The Sotol plant is a very noble plant and unlike the agave it re-grows after harvesting.

Sotol  was fermented by the indigenous tribes of the Chihuahua desert as early as 800 years ago and used by the high priests and shamans of the these tribes for ceremonial and medical purposes.   The oldest still found in the Americas was used for fermenting Sotol.  In the 16th century the Spanish colonist introduced different European distillation processes to produce the current high spirit. During the 18th and 19th century this delicious distilled spirit was very popular and widely consumed by the wealthy families of Mexico.

Sotol making grew and many distilleries popped up in small towns and the sierras of Chihuahua.  In 1905 there were 32  Sotol distilleries in Chihuahua that produced 473,000 liters annually and this did not include the clandestine liquor produced and sold by small Sotol makers and ranchers.  Most towns such as Parral, Aldama, Jimenez, Cuidad Madera and Chinipas had their own Sotol distilleries.   Pancho Villa was known to use it for medical purposes.

During the prohibition era in the United States, the Chihuahua government in an effort to appease the neighbors to the north outlawed the production and sale of Sotol.   The industrialization of Sotol went underground and Sotol became an illegal drink.  Along the border whiskey and tequila became the spirit of choice because it was easier to make and more economical to purchase and the consumer adapted to whiskey and tequila.  Tequila was not outlawed because it was not produced along the border.  Sotol was still considered a high quality spirit but had been become risky to smuggle due to the government’s effects to stop the production and sale of Sotol.

 In recent times, a movement to recapture state pride has led to resurgence in the appreciation of Sotol.   In 1986 the Compania Elaboradora de Sotol was formed to produce Sotol and to distribute in Mexico.  In 2001, the Regulatory Council of Sotol was formed to limit the production of Sotol to the three Mexican states of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila.  Sotol is making a comeback is no longer a hidden and forgotten gem of a spirit and is finally ready to launched to a new cliental.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM THE BACK BAR PROJECT

When we first started with Giffard, we had a vision to only import and represent products that we would all be proud of.  After we all fell in love with mezcal through our work with the families that produce El Jolgorio and Nuestra Soledad, we began to notice an under representation of other regional Mexican spirits, such as sotol.  One of our brand ambassadors at the time, Mia Sarazen, was a huge fan of sotol and often touted it to her patrons as “the other white meat.”  At the time, sotol represented a bridge between tequila and mezcal as it has some qualities of both and that certainly piqued our interest as well.

My business partner, Matt, in particular, was interested in exploring the opportunity to work with a small, family producer with generations of experience creating sotol using traditional methods. Matt contacted Jacob Jacquez, whose family is in its 6th generation of sotol production. After hearing his family’s story and tasting the sotol they were producing, we had zero doubt that we wanted to work with them.  Like many producers of obscure spirits, Jacob’s family were essentially artists without a means to share their art form.  They had previously introduced their family’s brand of sotol, Don Cuco, to the U.S.  However, without the sales expertise and distribution network that Back Bar was able to contribute, Don Cuco did not see the early success that it deserved.

Tasked with reintroducing this amazing spirit to the U.S. market we refused to rush the process in order to make sure every step we took was the right one.  Over the next 18 months we worked closely with Jacob and his family on creating a sotol that we all felt represented the spirit in its finest form.  We named it “Sotol Por Siempre” as it represents “forever” not just looking forward but looking backward too. In this way, we hope to not only share this spirit with the world but also educate consumers on the spirits’ rich history.

THE STR8 FACTS:

Brand Name: Sotol Por Siempre
Product: 100% Natural Spirits Distilled from Sotol
Category: Blanco
Sotol variety: Dasylirion wheeleri / leiophyllum
Master Distiller: Jacob Jacquez 6
th Generation
Sotol plant age: 8-15 years

Type of Soil: Soils typically sandy and gravelly, overlying a compacted layer of caliche, which retains little water. The soils where sotol is mostly found are alkaline soil; calcareous soils and calcium rich soils derived from limestone beds.

Geographical Description: Wild Sotol is harvested in the high Chihuahuan Desert between Janos and Jimenez between the elevation range of 4,491ft and 5,600 ft. 

Micro-climate: The Wild Sotol plants grow in the High Chihuahuan Desert: hot summers as high as 113 F and cold winters as low as 8 F. During its years of growth there are cool winters, with frequent night frosts. The desert grassland and high desert is noted for Wild Sotol growing in the deep alluvial fans created from mountain erosion and in the shelter of mountain crags, where the temperatures are cooler. The sotol plant is frost tolerant and also drought resistant.

Roast: The Wild Sotol heads are roasted in a ground pit oven 7’X 5.5’. Oak wood is placed in the pit and covered with volcanic rock. The lined volcanic pits are plastered with clay soil.  It is fired for about 8 hours. After the volcanic rock bed becomes red hot the sotol pinas are tossed in the oven. The sotol pinas are covered with palm leaves which are then covered with dirt. The sotol pinas slowly cook for about 3-7 days.  There are 3 pit ovens used at the distillery in 3 different sizes. This allows even distribution of the pinas so the oven is never under or overfilled which could impact temperature. The goal is to have an even roast. The oven is covered almost completely with one vent hole left open. Close to 20 liters of water are then poured into the hole and immediately covered. Adding this moisture to the environment is a critical step. Sotol is very dry and has a much lower water content than agave. Without the addition of water the oven can run too hot scorching the Sotol pinas adding burnt or acrid flavors to the final distillate.

Type of still: Copper pot still with stainless steel cask

Type of grinding: Hand mashed with axes during the summer and with a mill during the winter.

Fermentation: The mash is left to rest for 6 to 10 days where wild airborne yeast will ferment the mash naturally in 1000 liter pine square vats.

Distillations:

• First distillation has a 18 abv

• Second distillation has a 80 abv

• Finally the heads and the tails of the second distillation are blended into a 45 alcohol by volume/ 90 proof

% Alc. Vol.: 45°

Net Cont.: 750 ML

Provenance of Sotol, the beverage: Various parts of the Wild Sotol plant have been utilized by the Apache, the Tarahumara, and the Paquime indigenous Indians for millennia, providing food and fiber for clothing. Carbon dating in Chihuahuan caves has disclosed the use of sotol, as a beverage, dating back 800 years, preceding known tequila and mezcal use.

Producer: Compañía Elaboradora de Sotol S. de R.

Origin: Janos, Chihuahua México which is approximately 76 miles from the US border and a hub to major roads leading to Mexico City, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Janos is a historical town and is known as the Capital of the Apaches. It was one of the most important presidios when it belonged to the King of Spain.

Organizational Structure: The business is a family run company with emphasis placed on   producing quality Sotol for its customer. The CEO and founder is well respected in the community. He was mayor of the small town in Janos Chihuahua 2001-2004. The rest of the organization consist of young and old, the tradition and the future of this powerful beverage

Web page: SotolPorSiempre.com

Corporate Social Responsibilities: To continue producing handcrafted artisan Sotol by respecting Mother Nature. We distill with lots no bigger than 190 liters. The plant is wild harvested and has re-growth because of the meristem which is in-between the root and the heart. We continue to distill by educating the community and bringing economical development with sustainable practices.

Review: Sotol has its own Denomination of Origin. We are 6th generation distillers and learned this art from our ancestors who learned amongst the indigenous people of Chihuahua. Our ancestors were bootleggers and were educated that Sotol had 33 distinct aromas when harvested. The aromas came from the different Native plants that grew near the sotol plant. Our distillery was the first licensed in Mexico to produce Sotol it also obtained the first permits to import sotol into the United States. We have obtained many international 1st place awards in the category Sotol.

Eli’s Tasting Notes

On the nose: I smell a top layer of vanilla bean ice cream & muddled forest greens and beneath that trail mix with raisins.  Underneath that I sense something reminiscent of salty ocean air or salted pork.

In the mouth: I first notice bright, sweet and green nuances washing cleanly and evenly over my palate.  It’s quick and wet and simple, with traces of raw kale.  It taste like it came from the earth which I love.  For 90 proof, it’s elegant and shows off the talent of Jacob’s artistry.

That’s all I got for this month friends,

If you enjoy, tell your friends about it.  Sincerely,

Arthur Eli Rodriguez

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