How to Make Your Own Tonic Water

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Housemade Tonic Water

This subject has been covered before, but after numerous requests and some positive encouragement from a good friend this weekend I have decided to post my version of homemade tonic water.

The base for this recipe came from my friend Kevin Ludwig, who pioneered craft tonic water in Portland. His recipe can be found on page 76 of the March/April 2007 issue of Imbibe Magazine. This version is all mine.

My problem with homemade tonic water has always been a flavor profile that was too esoteric for the general audience. This recipe takes some of the positive qualities people have come to understand from commercial tonic water and updated them with fresh ingredients.

A note about cinchona bark

 

Try a few different suppliers for powdered cinchona bark to see which you like best. Tenzing Momo has great products as a rule, but their cinchona can often be floral, which may or may not work for you. You can also find cinchona from bulk herbal medicine retailers and other specialty herb shops. I find the yellow variety to be milder than the red, so adding too many other flavors to the mix can overpower the quinine. Adjust your recipes accordingly.

Once you’ve mastered your own tonic recipe, you can begin to experiment with different spices and fruit flavors to pair with specific gins. For instance, I’ve found that beefing up the orange peel results in a tonic that pairs nicely with Hendrick’s, but try playing off the coriander or cardamom in other gins and see what happens.

And now, the recipe…

Tonic Water Print Me

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped lemongrass (roughly one large stalk)
  • ¼ cup powdered cinchona bark
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp whole allspice berries
  • ¼ cup citric acid
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  1. Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Once mixture starts to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and strain out solids using a strainer or chinois.
  4. You'll need to fine-strain the mixture, as it still contains quite a bit of the cinchona bark.
  5. You can use a coffee filter and wait for an hour or more, or do as I do and run the whole mixture through a French coffee press.
  6. Once you're satisfied with the clarity of your mix, heat it back up on the stovetop or microwave, and then add ¾ cup of agave syrup to each cup of your hot mix.
  7. Stir until combined, and store in the attractive bottle of your choice.
  8. You now have a syrup that you can carbonate with seltzer water; I use my iSi soda siphon for some nicely-textured bubbles.
  9. To assemble a gin and tonic, use ¾ ounce of syrup, 1½ ounces of gin and 2 ounces of soda water over ice.

Recipe printed courtesy of jeffreymorgenthaler.com

258 Replies to “How to Make Your Own Tonic Water”

  • John Barrett says:

    Dear Jeffery,

    Thanks for the post. I tried this recipe a couple nights ago, and the result was certainly a tasty tonic, but not nearly as bitter as I was expecting.

    I powdered the bark in my spice grinder to increase the surface area, and I conducted the extraction as directed for 20 minutes at 100 C. I do realize that quinine levels can vary in cinchona barks, but still I thought there would be more bitterness, especially given Camper English’s (alcademics.com) calculations suggesting that the quinine content in your recipe could easily be above the CFR specified maximum 83 mg/L (for commercial beverages) by a factor of 15x.

    Do I just have a really week batch of cinchona bark, or do the most popular commercial tonics contain other bitter “flavorings” that raise the bitterness.

    Thanks,

    John

  • Hana says:

    Hello,
    Wondering what your recipe will yield? I would love to try it out just wondering how much syrup you end up with? Thank you😄

  • Neily Bob says:

    Jeff!

    Been a GnT drinker for awhile and just dabbled in your recipe. It is fantastic and can’t wait to add my own spin. Thanks!

  • Don Ruthig says:

    I’ve been making this “brew” for a couple of years now and am thoroughly addicted to it as the best tonic I’ve had.

    The filtering process has always been time consuming and messy but this year I found some good techniques that reduce the process to about a half hour. After cooking the tea I strained it through a wire sieve to get rid of the lemon grass and fruit zest, etc. I put it back in the pot, put a cover on it and left it on the stove overnight to settle.

    Today I skimmed off the liquid with a ladle and put it through a coffee filter press. When I got to the “mud” at the bottom of the pot I layered about four paper towels and formed a cone with it. I poured the mud into it and gently squeezed out the liquid with my hands until all that was left was a thick cinchona paste in the towels.

    Back on the stove to heat, added the agave and all done. I no longer dread running out of syrup since I’ve cut the prep time in half.

  • Joe Stachecki says:

    This is great with Gin but IMHO not with Vodka. It just doesn’t do it…. Is there a tonic recipe available for Vodka?

  • Stine Dudda says:

    As soon as I get a hold of the cinchona bark, I am going to follow your recipe. One question, though, as to the citric acid: What does it do to the tonic (flavour, colour or preservation?). What will be affected, if I do not use citric acid?

  • JohnN says:

    Reading Tom’s post from several years ago, I acquired a 2-micron Buchner filter. The filtered results were crystal clear, but the filter is too fine for cinchona powder (I was guessing) so I had to clean it repeatedly. In a perfect world I would experiment with 5u and 15u filters and report back.

    Acid pirhana mix (3:1 ratio of conc. sulfuric acid an 30% hydrogen peroxide) is your friend when cleaning these things, but don’t use it without studying how to first. It can get quite hot, but in the quantities needed here and with proper care and ventilation one can be safe. Don’t be cavalier.

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