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

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

  • Jessica says:

    Here is a somewhat convoluted story…

    So I went backpacking a couple weeks ago and bought myself a bottle of Aquavit (by local distillery House Spirits) as the elixor of choice for my flask.

    Fast forward to today, during a conversation about what tonic water is the best with Tanqueray 10. Of course, I am not nearly so picky… By my mother & her best friend have this borderline obsession with 10 and you’ll just have to trust me that they are really quite snobby about it.

    Anyhow, I am reading the Wikipedia entry for tonic water, and I see that somehow you can get a more traditional-style tonic, which is less sweet and more bitter. I’ve taken to ordering gin gimlets for this very reason… Because I prefer a tart/bitter drink to a sweet one.

    So I do a Google search in my attempt to see if I can find a brand of tonic water that will be more of a thorwback to olden days, and this blog entry comes up.

    I click on it, and what is on the sidebar? The “Norwegian Wood” entry.

    Which brings me back to the Aquavit, and how strange the whole thing is… Because the backpacking trip is over and I was wondering what, if anything, I could mix it with, or if I would resign myself to drinking it straight.

    So then I read the entry and thought to myself how much I would desperately like to try that drink… Only to realize, d’uh, I live in Portland and maybe I can actually go to Clyde Common and beg you to make it for me (since I don’t have any of those other ingredients and know that I am probably not motivated enough to go get them).


  • Karl – You can indeed bottle-ferment the tonic water, but I would recommend bumping up the sugar content a notch to feed the yeast. I don’t know how much to recommend, but play with it and report your findings back here if you would.

    Jessica – We’ll be expecting you for either a housemade tonic, a Norwegian Wood, or both sometime in the near future.


  • Nadine says:

    Has anyone tried this with Cinchona extract? Seems like it would get rid of the issue of straining the bark. I just ordered some off ZooScape:

    I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    I’m also curious about using Stevia for the sweetener. It has a bitter undertone that I don’t like for most things, but that might work great in tonic.

  • Bernhard says:

    Hi Imho, it should not be fermented, it won’t be tonic anymore..but an alcoholic beverage. The fermentation would also add different flavours.
    It can off course be a nice drink..more a tonic beer 😉

  • Franziska says:

    I need sugar-free tonic to help keep lower the glycemic index of G&Ts. 45 different flavors of sugar-free syrup are available at, but none are agave-flavored, (and some would be completely disgusting in this recipe. Suggestions?

  • Bryant says:

    I love it, Jeffrey. I made my first batch as a gift (along with a lime tree and a bottle of Atlantic) and I immediately made another one for myself, with a few alterations: added juniper berries, crushed cardamom, and caraway seed. I’m not sure that I taste the juniper or cardamom, but the caraway shines. I also substituted a little brown sugar for some of the agave. It’s just wonderful. AND BONUS…I’ll be malaria-free!


  • David says:

    Uh, so here is what I did:

    1l water
    1 cup chopped lemongrass
    34g cinchona bark
    zest and juice of 1 orange
    zest and juice of 1 lemon
    zest and juice of 1 lime
    1 tbsp whole allspice berries
    5g citric acid
    little bit salt
    500g acacia honey

    What I changed and why:
    4 cups are roughly one liter, so I went with that for the water.
    I did not powder the chichona bark because I am too impatient to filter that stuff out and I was too lazy to powder those cinnamon like sticks (and because I did not have any tools around). I broke it into smaller pieces.
    Then I put one tablespoon of allspice into the pan because I somehow misread that. I was really confused about the citric acid. I know the liquid one and I got cristalline form at home. After I mixed it in there, I read, that this would give me 80ml Of lemon Juice if mixed with 80ml water. bummer 😀 (or not?).
    Uh, kosher salt? After I read that this would be salt without any additives. I put in some I found in the kitchen I was working in. Had Iodine in it. 🙁
    And then I ran out of luck because I have browsed the syrup shelves in Germany enough times to know that there won’t be any agave syrup around. So I picked the solution with honey. I picked acacia honey, because you can get it everywhere (at least where I’m at) and it is a very mild one, nearly tasteless but sweet. I chose to follow your recommendation and mixed one third (in volume) honey with two thirds “tonic”.

    Now I am looking at roughly 1,2 liters of tasty tonic syrup.
    It is sweet and just a little bitter. That is because I did not powder the bark, I guess. And because I just took the last bottle, in which there is a little more honey than in the others. I like it. I hope the others will be less sweet. Otherwise I will post again, when I do it over with less honey. And better prepared.

    Thank you Jeffrey.

  • jean-michel says:

    you are so AWESOME for posting this. this is gonna rock the halloween party ! But i was wondering, where is the quinine in there ?

  • Hunter says:


    I’m about ready to give this a go, but I had just a couple questions. First off, I could only come up with dried lemongrass; should I alter the quantity I use? And secondly, is that 1/4 cup of citric acid in a powdered or liquid form? I have the former…if you used liquid, would you happen to know the solid equivalence?

    I’m really excited about this project…thanks for posting the recipe!

  • Hunter says:

    Jean-Michel, the quinine is in the chinchona bark.

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