Kerr is also a tequila fanatic. He spent two years in Mexico as an apprentice distiller, learning when to harvest, how to roast, and how to distill the agave piñas. Then came the miles of bureaucratic red tape and the attendant legal bills. Finally, in late 1999, Kerr was able to introduce Tequila Nacional. The eye-catching packaging is modeled after Mexican socialist posters of the 1940s.

Nacional's feisty, peppery taste of fresh agave calls for a classic, no-nonsense margarita. Moisten the rim of a cocktail glass with lime juice and coat with coarse salt. In a shaker, combine 11/2 ounces of Nacional, 1 ounce of triple sec, and 1 ounce of lime juice with crushed ice. Shake and strain into the glass. Garnish with lime and keep the guacamole coming.

HERRADURA REPOSADO ($35)


Herradura was introduced to gringos by an unlikely team of marketers. Having discovered the enticements of tequila while on vacation in Mexico back in the 1950s, crooners Bing Crosby and Phil Harris introduced Herradura to their Hollywood friends and later set up a company to import it. Times have changed for tequila, with a lot of brands now jockeying for position in your margarita glass, but Herradura is still among the best on the market in my book. Herradura means "horseshoe," which accounts for the horseshoe-shaped label.

I especially like the Herradura Reposado, a "rested" tequila that's spent nearly a year reposing in oak barrels. With its smooth, smoky, toasty tones, it makes a killer Char-garita, a cocktail I invented as an aperitif to serve before a meal of grilled fish. Stir 11/2 ounces of Herradura Reposado, a splash of Pernod or Ricard anisette, and a squeeze of lime over crushed ice. Strain into a salt-rimmed glass and fire up the mesquite.

REY SOL ($400)