Column: Bottle Service

by Bill DiDonna


Searching for the grandmother bootlegger who made the best tasting thing I have ever drunk has landed me in a goth dance party in deepest rural Mexico.

It was hot and we were lost. And the sun was going down. And we were almost out of gas.

Yesterday Romy and I were just a couple of regular American tourists in Sayulita. Doing nothing in a place with nothing to do. Beach. Drink. Beach. Eat. Repeat as necessary. We walked up to the one nice bodega in town; they had some fabulous Mexican wines and spirits. There were a dozen cork-topped soda bottles, filled with a pale yellow liquid sitting on the counter.

“Sotol,” Roberto told us, “Like Tequila.”

No. Nothing like Tequila: Bright herbal nose, gentle smoke and vanilla on the tongue. Ambrosia. Baby’s Smiles. Angel’s Tears.

An old lady, presumably a witch, made this. She bussed into town carrying her wares in a 20 liter water jug she carried strapped to her back. Did Roberto know were she came from? Where this benevolent potion was produced? He maybe knew a guy who knew a guy. He made phone calls while we drank Sotol. Forty- five minutes and two bottles [they were small] later Inigo walked through the door. He was younger and more pirate-y than I might have liked, but he told us he had a working car and knew how to find the woman and her distillery.

“Up in the mountains where the Spoon grows.”

We settled on a price and he kissed Romy’s hand and told us he’d pick us up at ten tomorrow.

Tequila, Mezcal, Raicilla, and Bacanora are all made from Agave of one sort or another. Sotol is made from Desert Spoon, which, despite what they tell you is not an Agave but a member of the Lily family. The plants are all grown wild and so the product is 100% organic. It is made similarly to its Agave cousins—roasted, steamed, mashed, brewed then distilled.

Ten miles away from the Pacific and the heat rose to 90-degrees. We were clattering up Highway 200 towards Tepic, the jeep falling apart—one door, no roof. Romy sat in front and seemed to be having a marvelous time with Inigo, while I sat in the back, my spine constantly realigning as I sucked down Pacifico out of the cooler. Inigo popped in a cassette, “The Queen is Dead” by The Smiths and Romy was delighted. I attempted to explain the Mexican affinity for Morrissey, but my words were lost to the wind and they sang along, oblivious to my sociology lesson.

We stopped outside of Mesillas at a roadside palapa for goat stew and more beer. Inigo hung at the counter presumably getting directions.

Romy looked radiant, “This is the very best thing we have done in Mexico.”

I looked at the dusty road, the junker Jeep, and the goats who would be stew soon and thought this might be a bad sign.

Marlboros are $2 a pack in Mexico and they make them so you can smoke one in two drags. I had quit a while back, but had bought a pack and stood outside smoking with the goats and the dogs that were too lazy to get out of the sun.

We headed up the mountain. I had grabbed some more beer before we split, but there was no ice. I drank them quickly.

So: hot, lost, sun setting, low on gas. Check. Somehow we got turned around on the mountain roads and could not find our way back to a path that would take us down to the highway. The beers had turned from coolish to room temperature, so we drank the last three quickly while debating our plight. I was certain we should go right, and Inigo was equally sure we should go left. My skin was pink, I was hallucinating from the heat and the beers and the cigarettes, but I was sure I knew what I was talking about. Romy had the deciding vote.

When we got back to the highway we had to continue towards Tepic to find gas. I should have been happy when we saw the Pemex/Oxxo, but I was pouty because she had picked left and Inigo had been correct. Bottles of cold water poured over my head and cold Pacifico’s down my throat helped a little. Inigo came back to the Jeep, “There’s a fiesta in the town up ahead, we can get some dinner and head back to the beach.”

We heard the Norteñas blasting before we saw the lights. We were in Compostela, in the park by the lake on the south side of town. Meat was grilling on oversized parrillas, churros were frying, kids were running around. We were gorging ourselves when I saw a teenager sitting beside a 20 liter water jug, filling small plastic bottles and passing them off to a line of customers. I moved towards him.

“Sotol?” I ask.“Sí mi abuela hace.”“He says his grandmother makes it.” Inigo’s help was not required.I knew exactly who made this. I bought eight bottles and we toasted. An electric guitar cut through the reverie. Kids rushed past us to the music. The song started up and the disconnect was akin to running into your therapist at a Moscow brothel. The Cure’s “Fire in Cairo” and suddenly there was a goth moshpit in front of me. Where the hell did they get all the Misfits tee shirts? I laughed and joined the pit, dancing with abandon and passing out sips of my precious Sotol to various underaged goths. I made it through “Grinding Halt,” then went to look for my compadres. I was filled with the milk of human kindness and so, apparently, were they. I finally spotted them down by the lake in a passionate embrace. Wasn’t mad. Walked to the Jeep, found the keys under the floor mat and drove back to the beach. I packed my bag, left the Jeep keys with the lady at the desk and hopped the last bus into Puerto Vallarta, laughing all the way. I still had three bottles of Sotol.

Photo by Jono Hey via Flickr