Hackney local, Ben Schroder, launched Pensador Mezcal in January 2018 after falling in love with the smoky spirit during a road trip around Southern Mexico. Less than two years later and you can find his artisanal mezcal in a number of London’s best bars, including Ryan Chetiyawardana’s Lyaness, Eric Lorincz’s new Kwānt and The World’s Best Bar 2017, The American Bar at The Savoy. So what is it about Pensador that seduces some of the world’s leading bartenders and sets it apart from the other new agave spirits on the market? We have a chat with Ben to find out.
Gregarious and approachable, it is immediately obvious from first encounter that Ben has a genuine and all-encompassing passion for all things mezcal. However, what is so impressive is that this passion is galvanised by a deep understanding of and respect for the category, place and people.
Who and Where?
Pensador is created by Atenogenes and José Garcia in the Miahuatlán region of Southern Oaxaca, Mexico. The Palenque (distillery) is separated from the primary mezcal producing region of Tlacolula by a collection of mountains, resulting in a unique culture and style of production amongst this region’s Mezcaleros. Techniques are passed from father to son and shared with neighbours, giving rise to localised styles of mezcal. The widespread use of refrescadors (water cooled pot stills that allow for single shot distillation), a shared trepidation for the low ABV end run of the distillation, and the unique varietals of yeast endemic to the area, form the basis of Miahuatlán mezcals that Ben was keen to celebrate.
Ben: After several trips to Miahuatlán, we met Atenogenes and José, whose exceptional liquid was matched by the warmth of their hospitality. We worked together over many months to create Pensador, a liquid which perfectly displays their skills as grower-producers
What Makes Pensador Different?
Ben: I think it’s important to keep in mind that no two mezcals are the same. Given the hand-made nature of artisanal mezcal – produced in uncontrolled environments without reference to modern measuring equipment – its not even possible for two batches from the same producer to be identical, let alone different producers from different regions using different agave. The diversity in mezcal is mind-blowing.
There are currently four UK-based mezcals, and two brands working with uncertified agave spirits. Within that there is a huge range – from Dangerous Don’s coffee pechuga, to Sin Gusano’s crazy distillates fermented in animal hides. At Pensador, we’re repping the Miahuatlan region of Southern Oaxaca, and their unusually clean, bright mezcals. We’ve gone for an ensemble of Espadin and Madrecuishe creating a spirit which is complex, well-balanced, and surprisingly smooth at 48% ABV. Priced in the low 40s, you can also afford to share it with your mates without writing them an invoice.
How is it Made?
Taking its name and ethos from Calle Pensamientos (transl. “Thoughts Road”), the road that the Palenque (distillery) is located on, Pensador (transl. “Thinker”) is a drink to ponder and take your time with. The same can be said of the process in which it is made.
Pensador is created using a mix of organic Espadin and Madrecusihe plants that grow in the fields surrounding the Palenque. Pinas are hand-harvested, halved and placed on charcoals made from local woods. This pile is then buried underground and left to cook for six days.
Once cooked, the pinas are crushed by a traditional tahona (huge millstone) to release the sugars without damaging the structure of the fibres. This pulp is then loaded into open-top wooden fermenters, with water added at regular intervals after a few days. Wild air-borne yeast reacts with the sugars over 17 days in a slow fermentation process.
The resulting wash is then placed into three copper pot stills, heated by small open fires. The process is measured and unhurried. This extra time allows Ategones to make careful cuts, producing a cleaner end product with a thoughtfully curated flavour palate.
Tasting Notes: Pensador Mezcal
Cracked black pepper, vegetal fibres, earth, flint, deliciously green vines, beeswax, cucumber and the cold ends of a BBQ.
Impossible smooth, especially for a 48% ABV. Slow smoke builds in the back of the throat with beautifully caramlised agave taking centre stage. A rich earthy minerality grounds light citrus and a wonderfully fresh, smoked cucumber is a bizarre treat on the palate.
On its own, neat, with oodles of time and well-deserved appreciation.