Pot, Peyote, and Snakes: the Rise of Northern Mexico’s Best Drink

Pot, Peyote, and Snakes: the Rise of Northern Mexico’s Best Drink

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I am lost in Juan Aldama, a small town where fine dust blows through sun-scorched streets in Mexico’s northern state of Chihuahua. Fortunately, an old woman eventually takes pity on me as I walk in circles. When I ask for the maestro sotolero, she leads me around the corner to Gerardo Ruelas’ house.

We walk through an unmarked door, past a bar with a tiny deer head on the wall, and into the kitchen. There I find Ruelas, who pours me a cup of Nescafé and begins describing sotol, the liquor that has brought me to his door. But as I struggle to understand his rapid-fire mumble of Spanish, he decides that coffee is not up to the task of easing our conversation, and pours me some of the spirit itself, a blend Ruelas has named “Elixir.”

The drink is dank on the nose and definitely herbal, but it goes down gently, a little sweet, friendlier than most aperitifs but somehow with more of an alcoholic punch. The most prominent flavor additives: marijuana and peyote.

How can that possibly be legal, I ask Ruelas. He shrugs, saying it is tradition. I silently hope that neither of those ingredients share more than their flavor with the drink.

In the last couple of years, if you’ve been to a bar where beards and mixology dominate, then you’ve likely run across mezcal pitched as the rough, Oaxacan craft cousin of tequila. Sotol, then, is the smoother brother that’s still flying under the radar in northern Mexico.

Ruelas is one of the few heritage sotoleros in Chihuahua, carrying on a tradition going back three generations in his family. He makes a range of sotols, from anejo—aged—versions to cremas de sotol, which are flavored like walnuts and could easily serve as a substitute for Bailey’s Irish Cream.Pot, Peyote, and Snakes: the Rise of Northern Mexico’s Best Drink


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