If you\u2019ve already fallen for Tequila and mezcal, it\u2019s time to give soulful sotol a try. Bartenders are experimenting with this funky, grassy, native spirit of Mexico, and it\u2019s starting to appear on drinks lists at a growing number of bars. As an agave shortage raises questions about the future availability of Tequila, it\u2019s not a surprise to see interest rise in this non-agave spirit, though sotol hasn\u2019t exactly gone mainstream just yet.\r\nWhat is sotol?\r\nSotol is a distillate made from a type of shrub, Dasylirion wheeleri, more commonly called desert spoon. That\u2019s in contrast to Tequila and mezcal, crafted from agave.\r\n\r\n\u201cPeople frequently think it\u2019s an agave distillate, but it\u2019s not,\u201d says Ivy Mix, co-owner of Leyenda, in Brooklyn, New York. The bar is noted for its extensive selection of Latin America-made spirits, which includes sotol. \u201c[The shrub] is closer to an evergreen plant than an agave.\u201d\r\n\r\nResembling a yucca plant (or a sea urchin), a succulent with long, spiny leaves, the desert spoon plant grows wild. It\u2019s found in Mexico\u2019s Chihuahua region, though it grows as far north as Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The plant can also be found south in Oaxaca, and thrives in both desert and forest climates.\r\n\r\n\r\nDesert, forest, prairie\r\nAccording to Ricardo Pico, co-founder of Sotol Clande, desert spoon is still primarily harvested in the wild. Throughout a plant\u2019s lifetime, it will produce several tall, flowering stalks, which drop seeds that are carried by the wind.\r\n\r\nSotol can also be made with an eye toward environmental sustainability. To make an agave-based spirit, like Tequila or mezcal, the roots of the agave plants must be dug from the ground. Those fields must then be replanted, and it will take several years for the new agave plants to reach maturity.\r\n\r\nBy comparison, when desert spoon is harvested, the root remains intact and the plant will eventually re-grow.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe plant itself can get very old, up to even 100 years,\u201d says Pico.\r\n\r\nMore than a dozen species of the desert spoon grow across various regions, says Pico, and each of those varieties contribute to the flavor of the finished product.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe most important factor is the terroir,\u201d he says. \u201cIn the forest, we get more rain and have different vegetation. Some of those sotols will have menthol, eucalyptus, a very fresh taste like mushrooms or pine.\u201d\r\n\r\nSotol grown in more arid desert regions may be more earthy or spicy, which can translate into leather, cacao or peppery notes. And closer to New Mexico, where forest and prairie terrain meet, the plant can reflect additional nuance.\r\n\r\n\r\nHow is sotol made?\r\nThe process for making sotol is very similar to how mezcal is made. At the vinata (sotol distillery), the sotolero (sotol distiller), digs a pit in the ground. There, he or she roasts the plant in a conical oven, fueled by whatever type of firewood grows nearby. This causes terroir to again come into play. In forest regions, that\u2019s likely oak, while mesquite is common in desert regions. It cooks from three to four days, after which the softened plant matter is milled into pulp and pressed to extract the sweet sap.\r\n\r\nThe sap is then fermented in rectangular wooden vats, about 4\u20135 days in the desert region, or 5\u20137 days in the cooler forest region.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s a super-rustic process,\u201d says Pico. \u201cThe maestro sotolero only knows if it\u2019s done by tasting the mosto (must) and hearing if it\u2019s boiling.\u201d At this stage, the liquid is called vino, which is then distilled in a copper or steel pot still.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nTo determine when the desired alcohol level (usually 50%, or 100 proof) has been reached, the sotolero pours some of the liquid into a cow horn, says Pico. The liquid is passed into a second horn and back again to examine the size and position of \u201cpearls,\u201d or tiny bubbles, that appear in the sotol.\r\n\r\nMost sotols are unaged (joven, or young), although some are barrel-aged. Hacienda de Chihuahua, for example, offers reposado and a\u00f1ejo bottlings, similar to how a Tequila\u2019s age is specified.\r\n\r\n\r\nHow does it taste? \r\nCompared to crisp Tequila or often-smoky mezcal, sotol tends to be bright and grassy. Depending on how and where it\u2019s made, some bottlings can have musky, earthy or vegetal characteristics. It\u2019s not unusual for some to liken sotol\u2019s funky aroma to sweaty socks.\r\n\r\nTo describe the flavor of sotol, Mix points toward evergreen plants. It\u2019s not fruity, but instead has a pine-like quality.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt should be crisp and clean, and a pine-y, sappy brightness comes through,\u201d says Mix. Some bottlings have distinct minerality, others can have a lemongrass-like lilt, or a green note that suggests the capsicum heat of a fresh jalape\u00f1o pepper.\r\n\r\nIn short, sotol can be remarkably complex.\r\n\r\n\r\nIs sotol Texas\u2019s new signature spirit?\r\nIn addition to the handful of Mexican-made bottlings available in the U.S., like Hacienda de Chihuahua, Sotol Por Siempre and soon, Sotol Clande, Texas producers also are getting into the spirit. Austin producer Genius Gin was first to create a groundbreaking experimental Texas sotol but no longer sells it.\r\n\r\nMore recently, Desert Door, another producer just outside of Austin, has rolled out a fully made-in-Texas sotol made with Dasylirion texanum. It\u2019s a different strain than the one that grows further south, which yields a lemongrass-accented spirit that the producer describes as \u201ccreamier,\u201d compared to traditional versions.\r\n\r\n\r\nHow do you drink it?\r\nIn Mexico, the traditional way to enjoy sotol is neat, from a small glass, sometimes with a beer on the side \u201cto refresh,\u201d says Pico.\r\n\r\nInfusions called curados also are common, flavored with locally grown ingredients. Pico describes a pecan-cinnamon-raisin curado often enjoyed during the cold-weather months \u201clike a punch.\u201d There\u2019s also infusions made with wild-growing damiana or even peyote.\r\n\r\nHowever, beware of sotols infused with snake venom, often signaled by a rattlesnake image on the jug. It\u2019s sometimes sold as a health remedy. \u201cThat\u2019s a gimmick,\u201d says Pico. \u201cLike putting the worm in mezcal.\u201d\r\n\r\nIn the U.S., consumers are just starting to become acquainted with sotol. It\u2019s often paired in cocktails alongside another, more familiar Mexican spirit: Tequila.\r\n\r\n\u201cRemember when mezcal was first coming out, and you had Tequila and mezcal together in every single cocktail you saw?\u201d says Mix. \u201cThat\u2019s where sotol is now.\u201d\r\n\r\nYet, as a growing number of sotol bottlings become available here and consumers slowly become more familiar with it, sotol is likely to find its way into the cocktail spotlight.