The perfect cocktail upgrade for tequila lovers

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Type “flavored tequila” into your search engine and dozens of bottles pop up, with a rainbow of fruits and chiles on their labels. Coconut, chipotle, mango, hibiscus and grapefruit are just a few of the flavors that tequila brands have come up with to enhance their spirits and entice their customers. Tequilas infused with actual spices are quite a bit harder to find but that may be changing.

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Mexican And Indian Inspiration

Sheetal Bhagat launched Spice Note Tequila Co in 2018. A trained vocalist who appeared on the first season of Gordan Ramsay’s MasterChef Season 1 in 2010 (and came in 4th), Bhagat spent summers in India as a child but at first pretty much ignored her stainless-steel masala dabba, the traditional tin of seven spices given to her by her mom when she moved into her first apartment in college. Years later, when she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career, she un-taped the spice tin, called her mom and started learning to cook her favorite dishes over the phone.

“I don’t have a hospitality industry background. I don’t have a food science background. I did not go to culinary school,” says Bhagat, “but I was known as the ‘spice queen’ on the show because I cooked with all the spices all the time.”

Baghat also happens to love margaritas. “I got to thinking, if you cook with cumin and lime together all the time, why not try it in cocktails? I put some ground cumin in my margarita shaker, and this is where the prototyping begins.” Thus commenced the long journey involved in creating Spice Note.

Along with the complex process of finding the perfect source for her spices and her blanco tequila base, Bhagat had to learn about the filtration process required when using ground spices to flavor it. Those original margaritas had “this sediment like you are eating sand … and it looks cloudy and mucky. … How do you get it out once you are happy with the amount of flavor you have? Spice particulate is very, very small, and cumin particulate is bigger than cinnamon particulate, so we had slightly different filtration processes for both infusions.”

Image Credit: Tara White /

The Right Spices

After landing on eight different flavor formulations, Spice Note launched with cumin “because that’s where the story started” and cinnamon “because I wanted something more familiar.”  The spice flavors and colors are remarkably true and pure and allow the agave notes of the spirit to surface. The earthy cumin tequila, though less aromatic than the warm, rich Ceylon cinnamon variety, makes an intriguing margarita indeed.

Image Credit: Tara White /

Cocktail Applications

Next, Bhagat hit the pavement with her creations. Beverage directors and bartenders at Chicago restaurants took inspiration from these new flavors and ran with them.

“Chicago has a high end culinary and bar scene where they do their own shrubs and syrups and infusions,” notes Bhagat, “…but can you make your infusion better than this?” she would ask.

Aneka Saxon, Director of Beverage Development at Chicago’s Machine and Headquarters, explains. “Many things are easier and less expensive to infuse than people think, which is why we do a lot of it ourselves. We don’t mind spending a bit of time to add a little bit of love to our ingredients. There are a lot of flavored products on the market that use artificial flavoring agents that don’t always translate very well into a cocktail. … Sheetal is making an incredible product that for us to replicate in house would cost much more than what she charges us. She takes great care sourcing her ingredients.”

Image Credit: Tara White /

Cocktail ‘Concocting’

At Machine, Saxon pairs Japanese whisky with citrus and Spice Note Cinnamon in a cocktail called Dragon’s Breath, which she serves hot in winter and chilled in summer.  She also mixes Spice Note Cinnamon with Ancho Reyes chile liqueur and ginger ale for the piquantly layered Devil’s in the Details.

Modern Indian restaurants like Rooh have also embraced the brand, using the cumin flavor with cucumber and mint in a bright green up-drink called the Last Hara.  Bhagat highly recommends a culinary approach to cocktail concocting—the classic combo of cumin + tomato, for example, points directly to the success of a Spice Note Cumin Bloody Maria.  She’ll add both flavors to a pot of chili to sensational multicultural effect.

In truth, the overlap between traditional Mexican and traditional East Indian spices is quite apparent, which maybe explains why it all works. Says Bhagat, “I grew up with this. These are the flavors of my childhood.”

Here are some spiced tequila recipes to inspire you.

Image Credit: ogdanhoda / iStock.

Dragon’s Breath

  • 1 oz Tenjaku Japanese Whiskey
  • .5 oz Spice Note Cinnamon
  • 1 oz Triple syrup (simple syrup, agave nectar, and honey)
  • .5 oz fresh Lemon juice
  • 1 oz water

Serve hot and garnish with an orange twist.

Image Credit: Machine Hospitality /

Devils In The Details

  • 1.5 oz Spice Note Cinnamon
  • .25 oz Ancho Reyes
  • .5 oz Simple syrup
  • .75 oz Fresh lime juice

Shake, serve over ice and top with Ginger Ale. Garnish with micro cinnamon basil and six drops of Hellfire bitters.

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

Image Credit: Machine Hospitality /

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