February 2019's Selection – Pensador Mezcal
Pensador is a trans-Atlantic collaboration between Atenogenes García, a Mexican farmer and distiller, and Ben Schroder, a 26-year-old Englishman. Ben fell in love with mezcal during his post-degree travels in Mexico in 2015. He came back wanting to share his new-found appreciation of mezcal with his home country and, the very next summer, he went back with the mission of finding a producer to work with.
When Ben discovered Don Atenogenes’s farm in the state of Oaxaca he was blown away by his "clean, clear and bright” mezcal.
Don Atenogenes is very abstemious in his distilling. When a still is run – concentrating the alcohol and flavour-giving compounds – the volatile heads come off first, followed by the hearts (the bit you really want), and finally the heavier, oilier, funkier tails.
Ben estimates that the Atenogenes palenque (as a Mexican distillery is known) dicards five times more of the heads and tails than most mezcal producers. It's this focus on the heart of the run that gives you the pure essence of agave in the final spirit.
Otherwise, Pensador production is very traditional. The farm only has two stills, bakes its agave in a pit oven, and crushes it with an ox-drawn tahona – a giant stone that rolls round and round a wooden spindle.
Like most mezcal, Pensador uses natural fermentation techniques, where the agave mixture is simply exposed to the air for several weeks to be innocculated with whatever yeast is floating past. Producers of other spiritis would almost never allow this random element into production – instead deciding on a certain strain of yeast and buying it in bulk from a specialist supplier.
It takes about two months to produce each batch of Pensador – even though it's a joven mezcal, which means it's unaged. Because they insist on hand bottling and labeling, the total time from field to shipping is almost three months.