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

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

  • mary clark says:

    Hello Jeffrey, I am pretty lazy. Where can I purchase traditional tonic water in the U.S?
    I found sites in London but not one here.
    Thank You

  • Richard says:

    Please check out this site for hidden names of msg – it might shine some light on the citric acid subject

    http://www.msgmyth.com/hidename.htm

  • Kevin says:

    Anyone know where you can buy cinchona bark and citric acid in NYC? I’ve been to quite a few shops and haven’t found anyone who stocks the bark.

  • Graeme says:

    Jeffrey,
    This idea got me so excited I ordered the ingredients the day I read your article, but my first attempt turned out terribly. Brutally acidic, overwhelmingly lemony, and with hardly any discernable quinine bite. A few potential problems I noticed:
    1. My cinchona came as intact bark, rather than powder, though I sent it through a food processor for a good while before using it.
    2. The recipe doesn’t specify dried or fresh lemongrass. I’m using dried.
    3. The recipe doesn’t specify citric acid salt or citric acid solution. I used 1/4 cup citric acid salt.
    Let me know what you think; I am determined to get this right.
    Also, is there any way to make the final syrup colorless? That would look extremely polished!

  • caver01 says:

    Graeme,

    I used fresh stalks of lemongrass. Used citric acid salt (dry form), and I used the powdered cinchona bark. All of the rest to the letter of the recipe, although my stalks of lemongrass were small so I only made a half batch. Results: excellent! Bitter, sour and sweet in a strong but balanced combination. I go about 2/3 ounce of the tonic to 2 ounces of seltzer. 10 times filtered through paper towels and finally through a coffee filter yeilded a light brown. I dunno how to completely eliminate the color, but for me and my guests that try it, the color adds to the experience that this isn’t your typical G&T. I look forward to experimenting with the ingredients in the next batch.

    Has anyone tried using barley malt extract or honey as the sweetener? I am curious about how that might work.

  • Ben says:

    I just made it, photographed the process, and posted it to Instructables. Thanks for the recipe and guidance, I am so jazzed about this.

  • Ronnie says:

    I hope this question isn’t incredibly inappropriate but I find that no one else has asked!

    I drink vodka tonics but I heard from someone that tried this recipe that it’s a bit heavy for VTs. Jeff, do you have any recommendations knowing this? I hope I don’t get dagger stares, I’m just not a huge gin fan!

    Thanks so much in advance.

  • Bernhard says:

    Very nice recipe!
    Just tried it with some strong juniper genever.
    Due to lack of agave syrup I used honey, which gives it a nice additional round up…and I measured free hand..as european we would appreciate if you do not stick on your unprecise cups but go for ISO measures like gram or ml.. 😉

  • Bernhard says:

    PS: concerning storing; how about using Vitamin C instead of citric acid and adding it after the boiled liquid has cooled down. This should 1. be healthier because of the temperature sensible Vit C and 2. also help as preservative.

  • Karl S. says:

    This is marvelous information. I’m ready to do some experimentation on my own as soon as I can find a source for the bark (I’m thinking there’s a local spice merchant/brewer who will carry it).

    I’m wondering, though. You’ve discussed making the tonic with the syrup and water from a syphon, or with club soda.

    I’m wondering if there’s a third choice. What would it be like if you brewed the tonic, like your ginger beer? Would you need to boost the sugar content to feed the yeasts? Would it come out tasting too “beery”?

    Thoughts?

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