The cocktail menu at Cosme, Enrique Olvera’s acclaimed Mexican restaurant in the Flatiron district, has a curious category: “other agaves.” At Tijuana Picnic, a restaurant on the Lower East Side, Jim Kearns, the bar manager, lists a flight of “extended family” spirits made from agave.
Agave is the desert plant used in Mexico to make tequila and mezcal, spirits that have become fixtures in American bars and will soon figure prominently in the celebrations of Cinco de Mayo. And now starting on the same track toward popularity up north are three lesser-known liquors that are made from some of the many types of agave and related plants that grow all over Mexico.
Sotol, bacanora and raicilla are increasingly showing up in New York bars and restaurants, and not just Mexican ones. Importers and distributors are building on the success of tequila and mezcal.
Sotol has the most traction. At 38 percent alcohol, it is a trifle milder than tequila and mezcal, with a somewhat toasty, nutty aroma and a flavor that hints of licorice and chamomile.
It’s made from desert spoon, a plant similar to agave that grows in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango. The cores, or heads, of the plant are roasted, then crushed and fermented, in more or less the same process used for tequila, mezcal and other agave spirits. It comes in a style called plata, clear and unaged, and a mellower one called reposado, which spends a little time in oak. “I’ve had sotol on my radar for a while” Mr. Kearns said.
Sotol, like most agave spirits, mixes well with pineapple. Alex Valencia, a partner and the mixologist at La Contenta, a newcomer on the Lower East Side, makes a drink called Matador Norteño, with pineapple juice. “Sotol needs that freshness,” he said. The liquor is also served at Momofuku Ko in the East Village.
Another agave spirit, one that’s been made for hundreds of years, is bacanora, from Sonora in northwestern Mexico. It is distilled from the fermented juice of a type of wild Pacific agave. Crystal clear, with a delicately vegetal aroma, it has a subtle smokiness and smooth, almost liqueur-like sweetness that makes it excellent for sipping straight. Bacanora is combined with tequila in a cocktail at Scotch & Sausage in Dallas. In Mexico, it may be served mixed with grapefruit soda.