Text by Duggan McDonnell
Photograph by Sara Remington

Summer is the time of burgeoning and lasting heat. The day waxes longer, the sun sets, but the heat of the season remains. It is on these nights that I pretend to be of Latin blood, that I am a bullfighting torero, that I wish to be called Che, that I feel the Alma of the world swelling in my gut. But really, I am just sitting near a barbeque or standing atop a rooftop deck, cocktail in hand, clearly living in my imagination.

My favorite spirit to swill on these sultry nights is tequila. I can’t get enough of the agave. I make margaritas by the pitcher. And as friends join me, the pitchers don’t go that far. And the more pitchers I make, the more we drink and the merrier we all become. This summer I’m making cocktails that are equally savory and refreshing. Not satisfied with mere citrus, tequila and sugar, these libations bite back with a gentle, herbal kiss.

As most Americans can attest to, tequila can be an offender to the psyche. It can goad and intoxicate, and the violence of the morning’s hangover leaves your mouth dry and your head hurting so damn bad that the guillotine would be a welcome relief. I’m here to tell you that that wasn’t tequila. You might have shot back some half-cocked mixto–cane sugar wannabe tequila crap. If the tequila you’re drinking isn’t 100 percent agave, it ain’t real tequila. Read the fine print. The extra money you spend will ward off your prayers for the guillotine.

A tequila new to the market and worth checking out is Cielo. Distilled in the historic region of Jalisco, Mexico, Cielo stands tall as a newcomer to the swelling market of premium tequilas. My personal favorite style is the Reposado, meaning “rested,” which is aged in American oak barrels for exactly 364 days. It bears just enough agave mustiness and oak-aging for a round mouth-feel of pepper and vanilla.

2 oz. Cielo Reposado Tequila
.5 oz. Guaycura Liqueur de Damiana
.5 oz. Velvet Falernum Barbados liqueur
Half a lime, hand-squeezed
Half a tangelo, hand-squeezed
4 dill stems, shredded
4 fresh raspberries

Muddle the raspberries and dill together and add the remainder of the ingredients as you pour it over ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a dill stem.

I’m a particular fan of the obscure ingredient and of trying new spirits. I make the Bolero with dill, which adds a Middle Eastern texture to the cocktail, along with the unique Latin spirits Damiana and Velvet Falernum. But the two most important things are the quality of the principal spirit and the freshness of the produce (and I mean plucked-off-the-tree-yourself fresh). When it comes to tequila, remember to read the fine print and spend the money. Take it from a self-proclaimed agave expert: it’s worth it.