The founders of Genius Gin might have gotten their start making a fairly well-known spirit, but they want to get adventurous with their next product. Coming in mid-May is a small-batch Texas sotol distilled from Texas’ version of the sotol plant, Dasylirion texanum, “a runty little guy (in comparison to Mexico’s larger sotol plant) that has to survive the harsh Texas heat,” Genius Distiller owner and CEO Mike Groener said.
Sotol (more romantically known as Desert Spoon) is a distilled spirit that comes from Mexico, just like tequila and mezcal. But unlike these more popular spirits, sotol, derived from a sister species of tequila’s blue agave plant, isn’t as commercially produced — and Genius Gin’s pioneering effort will be the very first Texas sotol.
The debut spirit of the distillery’s De Terra series, the Desert Spirit Texas Sotol took 11 months to get right, Groener said, because the plant Genius Gin’s Travis Sutherland plucked from the wilds of Utopia (a small town about three hours southwest of Austin) isn’t so easy to work with, molding quickly and responding best when pressure cooked. It’s also got a lot less sugar content than Mexico’s sotol, so in colder months it can take up to two weeks to ferment.
So why go through all that effort to release a spirit that will undoubtedly need some marketing for people to try it? Groener’s hope is that the sotol will serve as a “conversation starter” that will help the U.S. spirits industry stretch its creative muscles.
“We want to do stuff other people aren’t doing because it’s so difficult,” he said in a recent interview at the distillery. “We want to create something truly original and with an emphasis on Texas terroir, and we want it to serve as a template in the future for other distilleries.”
Talk about original. I tried the sotol, a slightly sweet, grassy spirit, and found that its complexity was hard to communicate into words. It has a distinct beginning, middle and end: an earthiness like mezcal, a sweetness like tequila, as well as a disarming X factor all its own. Groener assured me I wasn’t alone in trying to define that singular element; he’s been “learning how to articulate the unique traits of the taste,” which is different from the way it smells (the aroma is similar to tequila’s).
In addition to being unusual, the sotol will also be extremely small-batch and available primarily in cocktail bars, not retail stores. And it’s one of those sipping spirits served neat: Groener said the bars are perfectly welcome to incorporate the sotol into a cocktail, but it’s already plenty nuanced and doesn’t need the addition of other ingredients.
He and the other Genius Gin guys decided to experiment with the Dasylirion texanum plant, which grows in West Texas and the Texas Hill Country, after noticing the rustic beauty of the outdoors at Utopiafest, Sutherland’s music-oriented brainchild.
“(A lot of spirits with earthy origins) fall short in capturing the essence of the earth like mezcal does,” he said. “Mezcal is transformative the way no other spirit is — I can drink it and feel like I’m instantly back in Oaxaca. With the sotol, I wanted it to have a similar effect. My biggest fear in making it was that it would turn out uninspired.”
He’s already learning from feedback from others in the industry that it’s far from tasting uninspired.
Future releases in the De Terra series include pechuga — another agave-based, Mexican-made spirit — and brandy. For more information, visit geniusliquids.com.