A new brand of sotol, a Mexican spirit from the Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila regions, is aiming to stir deep emotions amongst those who drink it.
This desire is born in honour of the Canto Cardenche music it’s named after; a near-extinct musical genre native to Northern Mexico, which acts as a process of catharsis for the traditional Los Cardencheros group who sing it.
The drink has already scooped awards with its Sotol De La Sierra and Sotol De Desierto ranges, which won gold and silver medals respectively at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
We speak to the founder of Cardenxe, Luigi Ambrosi, to discover more about his artisanal sotol company.
When did you first set up Cardenxe and why?
I’ve been working on it for the past year and a half. It all started in January, 2021. I’m very passionate about music, I run a record label called Gouranga Music. We started doing events all round the world and signing artists. So music is my passion.
I went to Mexico to study this music genre I discovered called el canto cardenche, which is a near-extinct music genre; it’s centuries old, sung by this traditional group called Los Cardencheros who live in Durango, one of the northern regions of Mexico. There’s a very small community remaining of people who practice this art.
It’s a very visceral music that talks about deep emotions. They don’t really refer to it as music; they refer to it as a cathartic necessity – they need to sing in order to let all the emotions they have deep inside. It’s about love. It’s about pain. It’s about the hardships of life. By singing it, they channel this energy into positiveness.
In the region where these people live is also, coincidentally, the region where sotol is made, because it only grows in the three northern-most regions of Mexico: Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila. Sotol is a type of spirit that comes from a plant. Tequila and mescal come from agave, sotol comes from a different plant called the Dasylirion plant.
While I was there, they were drinking sotol and gave me some. It was amazing. I was in such an emotional context; these people bringing this beautiful message of a love for life, which is something that inherently happens from the high of drinking sotol. Instead of drinking something like gin and it makes you depressed, sotol settles into your chest with a warm feeling and makes you feel cosy, happy and well. You just want to open up and connect and share with people.
So in that moment you decided you had to try and share more of this with people?
In that moment, I said, ‘Look, I love this product, I can’t believe they don’t have it in the US.’ I would love to start a brand of sotol. I’ve always been in food and beverage. I was working for Campari, I really loved it. Then I was working for a food company in New York. I saw this opportunity of really starting a trend of something that’s really not established yet.
I turned to my friend who was accompanying me – a really good Mexican friend I’d invited on the trip. By coincidence, she has a tequila company. And so I said, ‘Look, I know you do tequila, but would you like to partner with me and create a sotol project?’ She said, ‘100%, I think this will be a very magical thing. Let’s do it.’ So we partnered up and from that day, we didn’t even go back home.
We were in Durango with these people for a few days; we learned about them and got this inspiration. We spent two months visiting all the distilleries in every region of these three states to understand more about the product. That’s when we became really sure we wanted to do this.
But we wanted to do it in a way that would honour the people that inspired us. And we also wanted to do a project that is really from passion. So we decided that at the core of our messaging, there will be music, there will be poetry; something that makes you realise that life is beautiful that you need to fall in love with it. And that you have to share and connect with people. You don’t have to keep your deeper feelings inside, you have to let them out. So we decided to call it Cardenxe to honour this music genre.
Just to backtrack to the etymology of the name; the music had this name because there is a beautiful cactus that grows around the region, called cactus cardenche. They call it ‘the cactus of love’ because it has these thick red thorns, that when they prick you, they sink deep into your skin; to take them out is much more painful. And they say that’s like love. That’s how the music genre’s name came to be. I just felt like it was such a beautiful message, I wanted to share it.
How would you describe sotol to those who haven’t tried it?
Its flavour is more aromatic, more interesting than a tequila; it doesn’t have that alcoholic [burn] but it’s not as intense or smoky as a mescal. I like mescal personally, but it’s a lot to take in. But sotol is in-between; it’s more herbal.
And you’ve won some awards for your product, is that right?
Yeah, we won the San Francisco World Spirits competition. That’s one of the best in the world. And the other one we got is a SIP award, which is consumer-based. Whereas San Francisco is industry people, SIP is consumers that grade, which I find a very important benchmark as well. And we got the Platinum Award, which is the top award.
That must have been an amazing moment for you; like mission accomplished for you putting sotol out there and now people recognise it highly?
I was very happy. And it’s not just industry people. Normal people liked it. I’ve seen that. Our first event in Mexico, we had a sotol bar. There were about 800 people and the amount of returning customers that went to the bar was outstanding. I was on the dancefloor and heard these people say, ‘Let’s go back to get some sotol, that stuff’s amazing.’ I was very happy. The bartender’s love it.
What’s your ambition with your brand?
I would say it’s two-fold. Number one, to be one of the first people to create this trend for sotol; I really believe that, in the same way five years ago no one really knew what mescal was, sotol will have the same effect. I will be very proud to be one of the people to have made that happen.
Secondly, I want to create something that’s about passion, transmitting a real message; a message which is kind of like my personality, a message of connecting. I’m always trying to make people feel at ease and feel confident enough to connect, speak their mind and realise there’s so much positiveness in this world… Letting loose, letting out, unleashing your deep emotions and falling in love with life itself.