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”

  • Hunter says:

    This line:

    “I can’t speak as to any medical benefits. I’m not a doctor.”

    …cracked me up, and furthermore reminded me of a great line from a Texas Meat Purveyors song:

    “I know you ain’t no doctor, but could you pour a dose about yea tall?”

    Anyway, more to the point, I see several people here discussing the safety of this stuff, and I have to say I find it extremely unlikely that there’s any danger. According to the oracle the real, medicinal tonic was between 200-400 times stronger than what they FDA will let you sell as tonic water today. Sure, I’m betting (hoping, really) that this recipe has more than 83ppm quinine, but I still strongly doubt it has more than, say, one order of magnitude more. In which case we’d still be talking about pounding 20-40 G&T’s to get just one medicinal tonic dose. At that point, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the toxicity of the gin should probably be your primary concern.

  • Hunter says:

    Ok, one more and I swear I’ll stop bombing the comments…

    For those looking for an inexpensive online source for Chinchona, here’s where I got mine: http://www.herbaladvantage.com/showsearchproduct.cfm?CategoryID=2&ProductSKU=11-5650P

  • Cisco says:

    Jeff,

    Has anyone tried this with pure Kosher grade quinine? You can get it from Sigma-Aldrich. It would probably make a clearer (possibly less complex) drink, which may be preferable to some (not sure about myself, I’d have to try). I’ve looked and everyone seems to use the bark. Is there a reason for this?

  • Hunter says:

    Success!

    I went ahead and made a batch, using 1/3 cup of dried lemongrass and no allspice. Unbelievable. It was like I had never had a gin and tonic before. Jeffrey, thanks so much for posting this; you’ve improved my life.

    @Cisco: I think the reason nobody’s using quinine sulfate is because it’s regulated as a drug and it’s frighteningly expensive. The site you mentioned wants $160…although it doesn’t say how much you get for that price. If there was a cheap source for the stuff I might give it a go. But really, I kind of like using the bark. It’s like a “proto-tonic” or something; the Raj already had isolated quinine sulfate when they invented the G&T, so we’re going back to construct one like it “would have been” hundreds of years before it was invented. Wrap your brain around that! Oh, and also I think the look is super cool as well…definitely drives home the uniqueness of what we’re doing.

  • brenda says:

    I ordered dried lemongrass and yellow chichona bark. They called and the bark is now only available in 10 lb. lots. I had to then order from herbaladvantage.

  • brenda says:

    Sorry, I ordered the lemongrass and bark from blessedherbs. They then returned the call saying the bark is only available in 10# lots.

  • brenda says:

    I am now drinking a wonderful G&T w/o sugar.

    Recipe:
    4 c. water
    1/3 c. dried lemongrass
    1/4 c. cinchona bark
    zest & juice of 1 orange
    zest & juice of 1 lemon
    zest & juice of 1 lime
    5 allspice berries
    1/4 c. citric acid
    1/4 t. kosher salt

    Combine and boil slowly 20 min. Strain through a sieve and a French Press. To 1 cup of cooled mix add 3/4 c. water and 9 Tablespoons of Xylitol. Stir to dissolve. Mix as recipe advises:
    3/4 oz. of mix
    1 1/2 oz. gin
    2 oz. canned seltzer water

    It’s good-oh yeah!!

  • Rebecca Linden says:

    Hey I just got a sodastream carbonater to replace my old ISI(which I love, by the way). The only problem, is although they have a large selection of soda flavorings, they all have splenda in them – even the non-diets, a taste I fond unpleasant. I’m glad to find a tonic recipe, but is there anyone making a (splenda-free) tonic syrup out there for purchase?

  • Joe Joyce says:

    Hi Jeff,
    I have been unable to find citric acid in the store. I did find true lemon which has citric acid as it’s top ingredient. I am just not sure how much to use.
    It says that one package equals 1 teaspoon of lemon. I am thinking that I will need like 30 packages?
    Any ideas?

  • Nuriah says:

    I just tried this recipe using Peruvian Bark Powder ordered from the Herbal Advantage website. The resulting concentrate (without adding agave or any sweetener) is a deep opaque crimson after straining twice through a gold-plate coffee filter and cotton cloth. I did also leave out the citrus juices, trying to keep it as low carb/low calorie as possible.

    I made a gin & tonic with your recipe plus 1 packet Sun Crystals. It was perfect, with a clear salmony-orangey hue. Just tried a vodka tonic with Rain organic vodka (a great smooth vodka)–also perfect. Thanks for a great recipe. 🙂

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