The “other” agave spirits (and Sotol) that you should include on your shopping list, in addition to Tequila and Mezcal.
There are already so many options of agave spirits that it is no longer sufficient just having Tequila and Mezcal in your bar. And fewer score if you only have “super commercial” Tequila; because you can still find very good options, produced in an artisanal way, as “mezcal tequila wine” was originally produced.
Besides these two famous agave distillates, your bar should definitely include Raicilla, Bacanora, and Sotol, especially if you’re in Mexico. To be honest, these five Mexican spirits are very similar in visual and aromatic characteristics; even in their advertising and packaging strategies. It is easy to get confused, so in this article and images you will find what their differences and their classifications are, and you would get a buying guide.
Tequila, Mezcal, Bacanora and Raicilla are alcoholic beverages distillate from Agave plant. They are differentiated by the species of agave used, production process and area of origin. Sotol is obtained from a plant similar to the agave, but it is a totally different specie called Dasylirion. In the past, this separation was not done and Sotol’s production process is pretty similar to the process of the rest of the agave spirits, therefore it is usually grouped and marketed together. The following infographic defines these differences. If you would like to have more detailed information about these distillates, check these articles: «Tequila is the heart of Mexico, but Mezcal is its soul» and «This is what you should know about the Denomination of Origin Raicilla”.
Apart from their similarities in sensory characteristics, raw materials and traditional practices in their production process, another common feature is that these five distillates have Denomination of Origin and a Mexican regulation that governs them*. (Check out the DO article, where this concept is explained: “Three benefits and three disadvantages of Denominations of Origin”).
DO Raicilla emerged in 2019 and has ideas and categories similar to those stipulated in the Mezcal 070 standard. The norm 168 of Bacanora and the norm 159 of Sotol look like a “copy-paste” of Tequila 060 standard, because, probably, when they were drafted, Tequila was already a successful business and they wanted to “play safe”. However, in the next update of their standards, it would be worth to choose for distinctiveness to keeping traditional practices and flavors. Let’s remember that the original Mezcal’s standard from 1994 was also a copy of the Tequila standard; and it was not updated until 2016 and… it still has opportunity areas, but its new auditing is approaching and the right thing to do would be to participate with proposals.
Along with these already positioned agave distillates, there are others distillates in Mexico that do not have Denomination of Origin and they are known by local names. The history says that, in the beginning, all agave spirits were called Mezcal. When the Denomination of Origin arises, it stole the word and leaves out several regions that already produced this distillate. Some of them have been integrated into the Mezcal DO (Check: «What everyone should know about the Mezcal Denomination of Origin”) but others are unlikely to be able to enter and, furthermore, it would be a shame if they did it. The more diversity there is, the better. Products with their own name and identity are better than products that fit to a «standard» and loose richness of flavors and culture.
The effort to position them in the market is definitely greater, but we are living in a time where «diversity» is respected and valued; so I consider that it is the perfect time to educate about them, promote them and that you add them into your collection. Only then, you could consider that you have a «respectable» bar of Mexican spirits, ready to show off to your guests.
*The official regulation of Raicilla is still in process.
NOM 006 Tequila: http://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5282165&fecha=13/12/2012
NOM 070 Mezcal: https://dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5472787&fecha=23/02/2017
NOM 159 Sotol: http://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=669378&fecha=16/06/2004
NOM 168 Bacanora: http://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_to_doc.php?codnota=4917328
NOM 142 Bebidas alcohólicas. Especificaciones sanitarias: http://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=5386313&fecha=23/03/2015
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