Pensador Ensamble, our first release, is produced from magueys Espadin (Agave Angustifolia) and Madrecuishe (Agave Karwinskii). These are the most widely cultivated varietals in Miahuatlán, and form the majority of Atenogenes and José’s crop. They are also both blessed with a high sugar content meaning a higher yield and greater economy. A good place to start.
Our Espadin take between 8 and 12 years to reach maturity, with mature pinas – the mezcal producing heart of the plant – weighing in at anything from 50 to 255kg. They bring warm flavours of pepper, spices, and stone fruits. Our Madrecuishe take slightly longer to mature at 11-15 years with pinas ranging from 10 to 120kg. They bring flavours of wood, earthy minerals, and an increased sweetness.
The exact proportions vary slightly from batch to batch but trend to 70% Espadin, 30% Madrecuishe. This balance was chosen carefully. Madrecuishe is a bigger flavour than Espadin and at higher quantities was overly dominant. At 70/30 the Espadin shines, while the Madrecuishe adds depth and softness, creating a spirit which is complex, balanced, and surprisingly smooth at 48% ABV (96% Proof).
The production process begins in the fields. Once the maguey have reached maturity they must be shaved of their leaves or pencas, cut from their roots, and loaded into trucks. A slow and exhausting job, but as with much of mezcal production, one which must be done by hand.
Once back at the palenque the pinas are split in two and piled high around the horno – a conical pit oven lined with large stones. A fire is built in the horno using a variety of local hard woods (Mesquite, Oak and Guamuche) and allowed to burn to near-smokeless charcoal. When the flames have died down, the fire is covered with rocks, followed by a layer of bagasse – spent agave fibres from previous productions – and then the halved pinas. The whole pile is buried underground and left to cook for 6 days, converting the magueys’ natural fructans – indigestible chains of fructose molecules – into caramelised fructose sugars. Importantly Atenogenes takes his time. Allowing the fuel to burn right down reduces the speed and efficiency of the process, turning a 4 day roast into 6, but it also reduces the smoke in the final distillate, giving the agave space to breathe.
Once cooked the pinas are moved to the milling area. Here they are hacked into fist sized chunks with a machete before being crushed by the tahona – a huge millstone which is dragged around a central axel. This is a slow process, but effectively releases the sugars without damaging the structure of the fibres - the risk of modern industrial shredders.
Next the sugars and fibres are loaded into tinas – open-top wooden fermentation vats. The fibres are allowed to dry ferment for a number of days before spring water is slowly added, bucket by bucket, at exact 12-hour time intervals. Once filled, the sugars will interact with wild air-borne yeasts (very unusual in modern spirit production - please see our FAQ) and fermentation will begin in earnest. Atenogenes allows for roughly 17 days of fermentation – significantly longer than the average of around 7 days. Again, Atenogenes shows disregard for efficiency, preferring the complex flavours of slow fermentation.
After 17 days, the juice will have turned into a 7-8% tepache – ferment or wash. It is now ready for the still. Atenognes and José have 3 copper alembics, or pot stills, with capacities of 250l, 300l and 350l. The tepache, fibres and all, is hand loaded into the stills and heated over an open fire. The fire involved is remarkably small, only a couple of sticks at a time, so the process is very slow – 7 hours for the first distillation and 14 for the second. This is roughly double the time taken by other producers, and so requires significantly more labour, but creates a higher rate of condensation within the still. This allows for cleaner, more precise cuts between the chemical components of the tepache – ethanol, methanol, acetone, esters, fusel oils and acetic acids. Using taste and smell, Atenogenes carefully makes these cuts, separating the distillate into several sections. Once completed, the central ethanol rich sections are carefully blended to create the clean, complex flavours of Pensador, at a full powered, undiluted 48% ABV.
The running theme here is time. Atenogenes and José’s approach to cooking, fermentation, and distillation is slow and inefficient. But at each step, the extra time taken imbues the final liquid with a delicacy and balance which can’t be recreated at speed. Here lies the second meaning of Pensador: slowness of time.
Each batch of Pensador takes around 3 months from field to bottle, and represents a huge amount of thought and careful labour.
So when drinking Pensador, please, take your time.