Barrel-aging beer has long been a way for brewers to incorporate whole new flavors in the beer — but until recently, no one had worked with Texas sotol barrels.
Releasing this week is what may well be the first sotol-aged beer, Vista Brewing’s Desert Skies Sotol Barrel-Aged Black Pilsner. The Hill Country brewery teamed up with Desert Door Distilling and the Fairmont Austin to create the beer, a variation of Vista’s popular Dark Skies lager.
And, oh, it sounds like a doozy.
“We chose our Dark Skies Black Pils for its roasty cocoa and toasted marshmallow notes, and we’re super happy with how it plays with the rich botanical, vanilla and bourbon-like notes of the oak-aged Texas sotol,” according to Vista. “Don’t be fooled by the light body. This beer jumped to 7.5% ABV, yet retains a mellowness with almost cognac-like flavors.”
Desert Door, located in Driftwood like Vista, is the first commercial sotol distillery in the U.S. Sotol derives from a spiky plant, colloquially called desert spoon, that is found in northern Mexico and West Texas. Mexican distillers have been producing sotol for generations, although it has not found the same level of international fame as tequila or niche interest as mezcal.
One of Desert Door’s co-founders remembers growing up and hearing stories from his uncle on this side of the border about people making sotol-based moonshine from the prolific plants.
Unaged, as Desert Door’s main product is, the sotol spirit comes out funky and earthy, not quite like anything you’ve had before. The distillery also has a rarer aged sotol that spent time in American oak barrels, giving it more of a cognac-like presence, according to Desert Door. In a couple of those barrels went Vista’s Dark Skies Black Pilsner.
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Bottles of the new Desert Skies beer ($15) are limited and available only at Vista’s tasting room (13551 RM 150, Driftwood) and at the Fairmont in downtown Austin (101 Red River St.).
Desert Skies has debuted the same week that President Donald Trump signed the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, supporting North American manufacturing and trade. A key piece of the agreement? Reviewing whether sotol will be legally designated as a Mexican product — meaning that U.S. distillers like Desert Door can’t call their products sotol, as a Dallas Morning News article reported this week.
That’s still up in the air. Desert Door argues the creation of sotol has a rich history on both sides of the border and, as such, shouldn’t be limited to Mexico.