Atenogenes and Jose García
Atenogenes started making mezcal as a teenager. His relationship to his childhood sweetheart, Simone, was not approved by either of the young couples' parents, leaving them no option but to leave home and elope. Looking for work in their adopted home of San Isidro Guishe, Atenogenes turned to mezcal - a well-respected but low paid role in the community.
Without a distillery, or Palenque of his own, Atenogenes worked on his neighbours' land. He would harvest wild agave, produce a batch of mezcal, and share the results with the owner of the palenque. He could then sell his allocation to others in the community and surrounding towns. These palenquero (distillery worker) neighbours played a crucial role in Atenogenes' mezcal education, as did Simone, whose father was a skilled mezcalero.
By selling his mezcal Atenogenes saved enough money to begin building his own palenque. Piece by piece he acquired the necessary equipment - fermentation vats, a tahona millstone, copper alembic stills, and finally land on which to grow his own agave, all the while honing his unique production style.
Atenogenes and Simone had 3 children; Benigno, Jesusita, and Jose. It was the youngest, Jose, who showed the greatest interest in his father’s trade. From a young age he would help out where he could in the fields and at the palenque, and when he was old enough, he began to develop his mezcal palette. Mezcal has been a constant feature of his life, as Jose puts it: “Mezcal runs in my veins”.
Once Jose had finished school, he committed full time to the palenque, and the pair began to expand their production. Their mezcal was excellent, and highly regarded in the local area, but they struggled to market it further afield – trips to larger cities proving costly and disheartening.
Then, in late 2015 Atenogenes was involved in a car accident and suffered a serious head injury and a near death experience. Fortunately, he made a strong recovery, and he regained consciousness with a clear feeling that change was coming. 6 months later, in one of their fields off the Calle Pensamientos, they met Ben and soon began working on the first batch of Pensador.
Atenogenes and Jose’s palenque is situated on the eastern side of San Isidro Guishe, on the road to San Luis Amatlan – La Calle Pensamientos. They own the fields surrounding the palenque, growing Espadín and Madrecuishe agaves, as well as the squash, beans, and maize which makes up their diet. These fields also contain a significant number of wild Bicuishe agaves. They own a larger field on the far side of the town where they grow additional Espadín. In the palenque they have a horno, or pit oven, with a capacity of 5 tons of pinas (agave hearts), a large composite stone Tahona, 5 open top Cypress – or Sabino – fermentation vats, and 3 fire powered copper alembic stills, ranging from 250-300 litres.
Their production is characterised by a slow and considered approach. At each stage of the process – the harvest, the roast, the fermentation and the distillation, Atenogenes and Jose take between 1.5 and 2 times longer than is typical. This ensures optimum sugars in the harvested pinas, complete caramelisation in the roast, added complexities and nuances in the ferment, and an exceptionally clean and precise distillation. This reduces their efficiency and increases their workload, but the results are nothing short of sensational.
They are a hard-working team, completing the vast majority of strenuous the work un-aided. They are also kind and easy-going with strong senses of humour; they are excellent hosts. It has been a privilege to work with them at their palenque, share their meals and their mezcals, and engage in their culture. They are the beating heart of Pensador.