Pensador: the thinking person's mezcal
Envisaged in the UK and born in Mexico, this ultra-clean mezcal is taking the London drinks scene by storm
Mezcal is perhaps the most evocative of the standard spirit arsenal. Its name alone conjures up images of misty agave fields in Mexico; of rugged mezcaleros hacking off leaves and placing them into smouldering lava pits. It is, for all intents and purposes, a product of the land, literally forged from fire and borne of the remnants of agave plants that have been charred by the volcanic rocks of Oaxaca before being distilled into an earthy, sweet and occasionally thunderously smoky drink.
With this uniquely Mexican heritage pulsing through every glass of the spirit, be it mixed in a cocktail at a luxury lounge bar or sipped neat at a moonshine distillery, London-based Ben Schroder seems an unlikely candidate to bring some of the highest quality mezcal to bars around Europe. Wondrously knowledgeable about the drink and fiercely respectful of its cultural roots, Schroder came to fall in love with mezcal and the creative process behind it during a road trip across Mexico in 2015 – to such an extent that he returned shortly afterwards with the express aim of finding the ideal product to export back to the UK.
This culminated in him joining forces with father-son team Atenógenes and Jose García, who have been crafting quality mezcal for decades in a field of agave off the Calle Pensamientos (literally “Thoughts Road”) in Miahuatlán in the state of Oaxaca. Shortly after striking a deal, the team worked on a new recipe using a mixture of of Espadín and Madrecuishe, the final product of which was “Ensamble”, the first bottle of Pensador. And just this summer, the brand released its spectacular second expression, dubbed “Espadin”.
As the brand itself notes that, much like wine, mezcal is the “product of terroir – geography and inherited production techniques giving mezcals unique local identities”. So with an array of varieties available, which niches of the spirit do Pensador’s two expressions fit into?
The first, Ensamble, has strong notes of cracked black pepper, vegetal fibres, earth, flint and green vines on the nose, followed up by a palate of caramelised agave, earthy minerals and smoked cucumber on the tongue. This is a superb choice for a neat drink, with a rich, fresh agave overtones complemented by subtle flickers of smoke – sweet and refreshing, it is perhaps at the opposite end of the flavour spectrum to what many know mezcal to be; explosive, meaty, smoky and rife with umami notes.
And Schroder, upon meeting him at a tasting of Pensador in London last month, seems even more enthused about the release of Espadin, a more malleable expression designed to slot into multiple different contexts. While it can be drunk neat, it is perhaps at its best in a cocktail, most notably a stripped-back, classic margarita, where the flourishes of lime and salt let the mezcal do most of the talking. Pensador describes Espadin as the “classic Miahuatlán expression”, full of earthy minerals, pine-like herbs, and floral nectar backed by gentle smoke.
With the popularity of the spirit growing at a practically alarming rate in the UK and Europe, it’s likely that you might find yourself being asked “have you tried this new mezcal thing?” in the near future. Now, you can respond: “Yes; have you tried Pensador?”