by Gary Nabhan
The world of fermented and distilled beverages produced from members of the “agave family of succulents” has its own lexicon or special vocabulary that is easy to learn. Mezcal and maguey are Spanish words, derived from indigenous words for century plants in the genus Agave, for roasted, fermented, or distilled products. Sotol is the equivalent term for products from the desert spoon in the genus Dasylirion. Now here is where it gets interesting. Tequila is really just a type of distilled mezcal, just as rye and scotch are types of whiskey. In fact, tequila was called mezcal de Tequila a century ago because it originated near the town of Tequila Jalisco. The same goes for the legendary distilled spirit of Sonora, bacanora. Up until fifty years ago it was often called mezcal de Bacanora, named for the small town in a valley below the Sierra Madre in Sonora, not far from the town of Saguaripa. Mezcal were once fermented and distilled from agaves that ranged from the Grand Canyon of Arizona all the way through Mexico to the highlands of Guatemala. Sotol historically has a smaller distribution, from Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and west Texas, east of the northern Sierra Madre to Arizona and Sonora on the west side. Each sotol and mezcal has its own distinctive taste of place or terroir, so enjoy!
Learn more about the differences between various agave spirits here!