REH Word of the Week sotol

noun

1. any of several plants (genus Dasylirion) of the agave family of the southwestern United States and Mexico that resemble a yucca; an alcoholic beverage made from this plant. It grows in northern Mexico, New Mexico, west Texas and the Texas Hill Country.

Commonly known as Desert Spoon, sotol, which grows in northern Mexico, New Mexico, west Texas and the Texas Hill Country, produces a distilled spirit similar to the mescals of central Mexico. The Chihuahua Indians fermented sotol juice into a beer-like alcoholic beverage as early as 800 years ago. Spanish colonists introduced European distillation techniques in the 16th century.

The Desert Spoon takes approximately 15 years to mature and yields only one bottle of sotol per plant. It typically grows on rocky slopes in the Chihuahuan desert grassland between 3,000 and 6,500 feet above sea level. Sotols produce a flower stalk every few years. The outer leaves are removed to reveal the center core, which is taken back to the distillery. The core can then be cooked and/or steamed, shredded, fermented, and distilled.

While distilled sotol is attaining international recognition, at the Fate Bell Shelter, which is on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, sotol is depicted in paintings on the rock walls. Sandals, baskets, ropes, mats, and many other items of sotol fiber show that it was a highly important resource to ancient Pueblo people. These artifacts date to around 7000 BCE.

[origin: 1881; American Spanish, from Nahuatl zotolin palm tree]

HOWARD’S USAGE:

From Sonora to Del Rio is a hundred barren miles
Where the sotol weave and shimmer in the sun—
Like a horde of rearing serpents swaying down the bare defiles
When the scarlet, silver webs of dawn are spun.

There are little ’dobe ranchos brooding far along the sky,
On the sullen dreary bosoms of the hills;
Not a wolf to break the quiet, not a desert bird to fly
Where the silence is so utter that it thrills.

[from “The Grim Land”; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 302 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 342]