Mexican spirits to try from Pox to Sotol in Raicilla

I bet you can order a tequila-based cocktail at almost any bar in America. And in most big cities, you could probably sub tequila for its smoky cousin, mezcal. The American market is teeming with enthusiasm for Mexican spirits: just last year, Mexico almost exported one billion gallons of tequila in the United States.

While you may have one or both of these popular agave liqueurs sitting in your home bar cart, make room for a few additional bottles. Finally, some of Mexico’s oldest and most delicious liqueurs are finally coming to the United States, and we are here for it.

Mexico’s rich cultural culinary history and landscape of biodiversity are reflected in its liquor offerings and go far beyond mezcal and tequila. Although less known in the United States, pox, sotol, and raicilla are three delicious Mexican liqueurs worth paying more attention to.

Cesar Estrada, Food & Beverage Director at Thompson Zihuatanejo, a 5-star resort in southwestern Mexico, guides guests through a tasting of Mexican spirits, including smallpox, sotol, and raicilla. “Part of the success of these spirits is precisely the fact that they have a personality to be alone,” says Señor Cesar. He reads on to learn more about Mexico’s personality-filled spiritual offerings.

Photo by Skurnik Wines and spirits

smallpox

Pox (pronounced “posh”) is a corn distillate produced for centuries by the Tzotzil Maya in the mountainous region of Chiapas in southern Mexico. Traditionally used medicinally for physical and spiritual ailments, smallpox also has symbolic importance for the Tzotzil Maya.

“[Pox] it is a symbol of indigenous resistance, ”writes Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu. Quan Kiu explains that in the 16th century the Tzotzil Maya successfully defended their land and culture from the Spanish missionaries, safeguarding their customs and traditions, “including their use of smallpox in ceremonial rites”.

Unlike more traditional spirits, whose ingredients and production are tightly controlled by the Mexican government and regulatory organizations, smallpox producers have a lot of say in what goes into their spirit and how it’s made.

Chiapas Siglo Cero Distillery is one of the few manufacturers that imported to the United States to make smallpox, Siglo Cero crushes water with sugar cane to make piloncillo, then combines it with wheat bran and four types of corn heirloom ground and fermented for 10 to 18 days. The end result is a clear, double-distilled spirit full of creamy roasted corn flavors and aromas, a silky texture and a clean, pungent finish. Mr. Cesar suggests trying smallpox on its own as a digestive sip to truly enjoy its “corn and sugar cane soul”.

Photo by Skurnik Wines and spirits

Sotol

Sotol is to northern Mexico what mezcal is to the south. It is a non-agave spirit that can only be made in Chihuahua, Durango or Coahuila, Mexico, as it has had its own appellation since 2002. Sotol is distilled from a shrub called dasylirion wheelerimore commonly known as “sotol” in Spanish or “desert spoon” in English, native to the deserts of northern Mexico.

Sotol is a plant from the Asparagaceae family, yes, That asparagus. Like the spring asparagus we know, which sprouts somewhat comically, the sotol plant blooms with a tall, lanky stump protruding from the low shrub. Unlike the once-in-a-lifetime agave plant, sotolo matures over many years and blooms multiple times.

To make sotol, the heart (or piña) of the shrub is harvested, roasted, chopped and fermented. Led by master Sotolier José “Chito” Fernandez Flores, Flor Del Desierto’s Sotol Sierra is made with 18-20 year old sotol plants that are harvested in the wild in the state of Chihuahua, then hand-cut and processed.

The Flor Del Desierto uses large copper pots to distil their sotol not once but twice. Their sotol smells distinctly of green herbs and grass clippings (at best, ultra fresh). Its flavor is super clean and savory, rich in mint, pine and eucalyptus. Sotol’s herbaceous notes pair perfectly in a cocktail with lime, fresh herbs or even ginger – try substituting it with tequila in one of my favorite cocktails, the Grapefruit Rosemary Margarita.

Photo by Skurnik Wines and spirits

raicilla

The most similar to the tequila of this cluster, raicilla is an agave spirit that comes from southwestern Jalisco, the state of Mexico known for its agave production. While tequila is made only from blue agave grown and harvested in Jalisco, raicilla can be made from multiple types of agave depending on where it is harvested in Jalisco, by the sea or in the mountains. Like other agave distillates (and sotol from its namesake plant), raicilla is made from the heart of the agave plant which is roasted and distilled.

At Estancia Distillery in La Estancia de Landeros, Jalisco, Maestro Raicillero Alfredo Salvatierra and his team use more traditional methods in their production process. Agave is roasted in large adobe ovens, fermented in slightly porous clay pots called amphora, aged in oak, then distilled twice in copper and steel.

For 45% ABV, Estancia raicilla is surprisingly smooth, with a herbaceous and citrusy glow. Known for its softer, sweeter flavor, raicilla can be enjoyed on its own or mixed in a cocktail. “Raicilla has the power and strength to be mixed or served on its own for a slow sip,” says Señor Cesar. “[Try it] paired with a vanilla, cinnamon or chocolate dessert.


Have you tried any of these Mexican liqueurs? Let us know in the comments!

Leave a Comment