Spirits enthusiasts and aficionados thrive on the pursuit of discovery. Finding a new artisanal spirit to sip and savor is a highly sought after experience, and when that spirit turns out to be the best of its type, the experience turns unforgettable. Ocho Cientos Blanco Sotol is an excellent example. The recently introduced spirit is absolutely captivating. You can almost taste its heritage in every drop. Those looking for an authentic taste experience need search no more.
Ocho Cientos is handcrafted at Compañia Elaboradora de Sotol in Chihuahua, Mexico by 6th generation master distiller, Marco Antonio Perez. The spirit is made from the Sotol plant (Dasilyrion wheeleri)—commonly known as the Desert Spoon—that grows wild in the high elevation of the Chihuahuan Desert. It takes 12 to 15 years for the plant to mature, and by the end of the process, each mature plant will yield only one bottle of finished Sotol.
After harvesting, the hearts of the plants—referred to as piñas—are taken to the distillery where they are placed in a 7-foot deep pit oven, the walls of which are lined with volcanic rocks and plastered with clay soil. The pit is covered with palm leaves while the plants are slowly roasted over the course of 3 days. Water is slowly added so as to steam bake the piñas.
The roasted hearts are then removed from the oven, placed on a table and hand mashed with an ax. The objective is to remove the "quiote," the center core of the Sotol. The mashed plants are placed in buckets and transferred to a large pine vat where they are mixed with purified water and allowed to ferment up to 8 days. The mash ferments using naturally occurring airborne yeast.
The fermented mash—fibrous hearts included—is twice distilled in extremely small batches in traditional copper pot stills. Portions of the second distillation are blended together to make the finished spirit, which is filtered and then bottled at 43% alcohol (86 proof).
Ocho Cientos Blanco is rested prior to bottling to allow its flavors to fully integrate. The result is an earthy, elegant and thoroughly engaging spirit. It has pristine clarity, a medium weight, velvety textured body and a generous bouquet saturated with herbaceous, spicy and fruity aromas and light smoky notes. Its lofty aromatics are irresistibly enticing. The Sotol has a cool, soft entry as it expands filling the mouth with the flavors of roasted peppers, tropical fruit, white pepper, mocha, cinnamon and allspice. The finish is long and spicy warm. There is nothing on the market remotely like it. Kudos!
The Ocho Cientos Reposado is equally alluring. During its 10-month stay in re-charred, American white oak barrels, the Sotol develops a deep reddish/golden hue, a curvaceous body and a wafting bouquet comprised of herbal, spicy and bakery fresh aromas with smoky notes. The spirit raises little heat as it bathes the palate with the flavors of fruit, pepper, vanilla, caramel and toasted oak. The long finish is extremely rich and flavorful.
While both expressions of Ocho Cientos are tailor-made for use in cocktails, they are perhaps best served neat in a snifter. It is an experience not to be missed.
Sotol has now earned its own "Denomination of Origin," meaning that it can only be produced in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango. Compañia Elaboradora de Sotol became the first licensed distillery to produce Sotol and was the first distiller to obtain a permit to export Sotol to the United States.
In the realm of Mexican spirits, Sotol remains overshadowed by tequila and mescal. However, a quick sniff, sip and swallow of Ocho Cientos will convince you that the status quo is bound to change.