Tasting: 2 Fresh Sotol Brands from Cardenxe Sotol (Desierto, Sierra)

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Tasting: 2 Fresh Sotol Brands from Cardenxe Sotol (Desierto, Sierra)

Sitting on the sidelines of the spirits industry, it can be difficult to tell if a newer spirit category (to the U.S., anyway) receiving a marketing push is really being successful in breaking through on a cultural level. Case in point: There have been no shortage of sotol brands launching in the U.S. in the last few years, each promising to increase the visibility of the traditional Mexican spirit among American consumers of tequila and mezcal, but it’s a little tough to tell if the average consumer has really been introduced to sotol at this point. Cardenxe Sotol, meanwhile, is one more brand taking aim at the agave-adjacent market, perhaps hoping to become a household brand when sotol finally makes that leap into the bigtime.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: If you aren’t familiar with sotol, our guide to the spirit lays out everything you really need to know. As we wrote there:

Like tequila and mezcal, the sugars used to ferment (and then distill) sotol come from the cores of a common desert plant, but rather than any species of agave, sotol is made from … sotol, which is also the name of the plant. The “desert spoon” is a plant with many species and names, with sotol liquor commonly being made from the likes of Dasylirion wheeleri (desert spoon, spoon flower, sotol, common sotol) or Dasylirion leiophyllum (green sotol, smooth-leaf sotol, smooth sotol). They’re flowering succulent plants in the asparagus family, with long, thin, spiny leaves that make the plant overall look quite like a spiny sea urchin. Varieties of sotol grow throughout Northern Mexico, commonly found in the deserts of Chihuahua or forests of Oaxaca, but the range of wild sotol plants also creeps into the U.S. in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. As a result, sotol is potentially both a Mexican and American spirit, though the tradition of sotol production in Mexico goes back much farther into the past. Nor does the sotol plant really taste much like agave—rather than the sweetness and fruitiness common to most species of agave, sotol plants tend to have more evergreen-like, resinous or grassy characteristics.

Cardenxe Sotol, meanwhile, is producing two varieties of the spirit, labeled as “Sotol De La Sierra” and “Sotol De Desierto.” The former is produced entirely from dasylirion wheeleri, while the latter is more of a cuvee from three species of dasylirion, described on the bottle as the “desert blend.” So with that said, let’s get to tasting these two bottles and see how they compare with each other and other sotols on the market.

Cardenxe Sotol De La SierraMSRP: $90

This 100% dasylirion wheeleri sotol has the somewhat odd distinction of being 40% ABV (80 proof), rather than the 90 proof Sotol De Desierto, while simultaneously having an MSRP that is $30 higher. This would seemingly imply that this particular species of sotol is more expensive to source than the other varieties used in the Sotol De Desierto, but it’s quite unconventional to see any brand with a more expensive flagship that is presented at a lower proof than the secondary offering. At the same time, the $90 price tag does beg the question of how much one can premiumize an unaged spirit such as sotol in the first place–how do you convince the consumer that the contents of the bottle demand that kind of price point, given the lack of such expenses as time and oak casks? I question how big the potential mass market is out there for $90 bottles of unaged sotol, outside of spirits geeks who discover a particular interest in this style.

With that said, the nose of Cardenxe Sotol De La Sierra initially presents as light and pleasant, with sweet and lightly mineral notes. There’s very little overt smokiness to be found here, although there is a woodiness or slightly resinous quality, paired with light peppery spice. Compared with many sotol I’ve sampled, which most accurately would be compared to mezcal on the nose, I think this one actually has more in common with many blanco tequila. All in all, it feels like quite a gentle nose.

On the palate though, this one wakes up substantially, with moderate smokiness that appears, joined by semi-sweet herbal notes and sea salt. There’s some burnt wood char, which contributes some drying astringency, but it overall creates a balancing act between dryness and sweet herbal tones, notably eucalyptus. All in all, this one is on the more light and subtle side than some of the other, bolder sotol I’ve had. It feels like you could slot the bottle in and use it in most places people are using tequila or mezcal without many drinkers strongly noting the difference–which might be a plus for some, but for a $90 bottle you’re probably hoping for something more vivacious or distinctive.

Cardenxe Sotol De DesiertoMSRP: $60

This more attractively priced desert blend bottle also has a bit more robust strength of 45% ABV (90 proof), which theoretically would make its profile hold up a bit stronger in mixed drinks and cocktails. As mentioned above, this brand is made with three species of sotol, and is meant to evoke the arid environment in which the “desert spoon” thrives.

On the nose, this one immediately strikes me as more distinctive in character–I’m getting subtle hints of smoke, along with herbal sweetness that has a deeper and more roasted characteristic, even incorporating traces of floral vanilla or cacao nibs. Possibly a bit of grapefruit as well? On the palate, this one strikes me as fruitier as well, with something like bright traces of citrus and pineapple, combined with moderately assertive smokiness. It seems either a little bit sweeter overall than the dasylirion wheeleri sotol, or perhaps it just has a bit less balancing astringency, making it appear relatively sweeter. Regardless, this is a pleasing combination of floral and vegetal sweet notes, evoking perhaps a less bitter alpine amaro … except I’m also getting some subtle baking spice the more I return to this, making the Sotol De Desierto entirely its own unique animal.

All in all, I feel like the Sotol De Desierto just presents with a bit more engaging character overall than the Sotol De La Sierra, which only makes sense given the modest bump in proof. With the price being significantly friendlier, it’s definitely the one I would find myself seeking out.

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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