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As the song goes, “names make all the difference in the world” and that is manifestly true in Mexican distilling where everything has a name and a name that frequently changes depending on where you’re distilling and who’s doing the talking. Our latest exhibit is dasylirion wheeleri and relatives. 

Michael Hurley Palmilla, the Sonoran Sotol.

In much of northern Mexico Sotol is a spirit made from the plant Dasylirion wheeleri and similar species but in Sonora it’s called Palmilla. Literally that means “little palm” because the dasylirion plants look like little palm fronds minus the talk tree stalk, sort of like a Dr. Seuss illustration. Locally the plant is also called Palmilla serrata.

Michael Hurley Mazot’s distiller Sinohe Chacon Ezrre shows off one of the large Palmillas that his family harvests for their Palmilla. They have a relatively unique geographical situation resulting in very large Palmillas.

There is a degree of appellation confusion as well because the TTB currently allows for two descriptors for Sotols from outside of the Sotol D.O.: Products can either call themselves “Distilled from Dasylirion wheeleri” or “distilled from sotol.” Sonoran producers would very much like to keep Palmilla distinct from Chihuahuan sotol so this is where it gets tricky, do you use the “distilled from sotol” wording on your label as a way to make the association for consumers or do you strike out on your own and focus on educating people about it as something distinct? Mark this one down for for the D.O. or Don’t series.

Michael Hurley The core of a roasted Palmilla, the Sonoran Sotol.

It doesn’t end there: Just one more example – in Oaxaca dasylirion is known as Cucharilla which can be translated as little spoon or teaspoon. Seeing that Sotol is colloquially known as “the desert spoon” in English because when you roast the leaves right where they pull off the plant, they look like spoons. And that little spoon bit is edible, it can be scraped off the leaf just like a giant artichoke. When is a spoon, just a spoon? Or a desert spoon? You get the idea.

Read more of our entries in the Mezcalistas Encyclopedia of Mezcal and email us questions or ideas for future entries.

Max co-founded Mezcalistas with Susan way back in 2012. Before that he was a journalist at Salon.com and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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