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”

  • Mysterious Stranger says:

    I got my cinchona from Tenzing Momo. I followed the link Jeffrey provided to their “c/s” version, which seems to be more shredded than finely ground. Worked great for me.

    I’m curious, has anybody come up with a Bitter Lemon recipe based on this tonic recipe?

  • Ken says:

    I’ve been at this for about a year now since finding this. I love the recipe, although I tweak it here and their.

    One thing I do is cold brew the cinchona with just the citric acid in six quarts of water (I do double batches). I leave it at room temp and shake occasionally for a day or so. I then put it in the fridge overnight and the bark settles to the bottom. I then take a liter water bottle with the bottom cut out. I unwrap three cotton balls and stuff a thick portion of this into the neck via the bottom (I use a sharpening steel). I then insert the neck into that of a larger bottle, after which I decant a portion of the brew through the filter apparatus. Be careful not to disturb the sediment. After most is passed through, I can finish off that last little bit. The cold brewing is more selective. You get all the quinine, but less of the bark taste. You still get a deep red hue and great clarity.

    I brew the other ingredients in the remaining two cups of water on the stove and run that through a gold coffee filter. For pristine clarity, run it all through the cotton again. It will go quite fast this time.

  • Rob says:

    Along with many of you people I find commercial tonic water far too sweet and have been enthused by the contributors to this site. My problem is that I cant find cinchona powder in the UK. I have found a source for a it in liquid form (a tincture). Does anyone know if this can be used as a substitute and if so what the comparison on quantity used is with powder?

  • Ken says:


    Tinctures are alcohol based infusions which usually come in small bottles. In theory it might work, but I imagine it would take quite a few bottles of tincture and would be very expensive. The result would probably be clear, rather than reddish brown.

  • Rob says:

    Thanks very much for this Ken.

    It sounds as tincture isnt very practical so I have been in touch with my sister who lives in California. She has found a source of cinchona in ”chopped” form. Im not sure how finely it is chhopped, but if anyone could provide any advice on whether this would do the trick for tonic, I would be very grateful.

  • Ken says:


    Chopped, I think, will work fine. What is going on here is an acidic extraction. Quinine is an alkaloid, which is an alkaline compound derived from a plant. This reacts with an acid, in our case citric acid. A salt is formed, quinine citrate, which dissolves easily in water. If you use the cold brew method, which I really like, you might give it an extra day to pull out the quinine. Alternatively, you could grind the bark down finer with a blade type coffee grinder to speed things along.

    I should mention that when I brew, I don’t add any sweetener until I’m done. I add agave or organic sugar simple syrup along with the tonic concentrate to the water prior to carbonation.

    An interesting note is that the form of quinine in the tonic water depends on what acid is used in the process of making it. Most commercial tonic water contains quinine hydrochloride, which indicates it was made with hydrochloric acid. Here, we’re using citric acid, which results in quinine citrate.

    Good luck, and thanks Jeff for the best homemade tonic page around!

  • Rob says:

    Thanks very much Ken – you guys are brilliant! I have a consignment of cinchona on its way from California and I cant wait to get going on it. I’ll let you know how I get on.

  • Remy says:

    I’ve been doing this for about a year now. Always comes out fantastic. Best gin and tonic you’ve ever had, hands down.

    I’ve written up my experience here.

  • afr says:

    Thanks for the recipe!
    I have been planning to attempt making a batch for over a year. After a friend ordered the bark for me (probably to make me stop talking about it and to let him him tasting it) I am finally starting my first batch today. It is coming to a boil as I type.
    Based on that I read here and related posts I have already modified the recipe without trying the original..
    I only have dried (with hardly any odor) lemongrass am not using citric acid (So I up-ed the citrus a lot). Added peel (microplaned)of 2 lemons, 1/2 grapefruit and (using a citrus zester)4 limes. As for the juice I added the juice of 4 lemons and 4 limes. For spice I added about 5 allspice balls a tsp of conriander ~10 cardamom seeds (not pods) and 5 juniper berries, in addition to the bland dried lemon grass (I tried to find fresh but failed). I will report on how it worked out.

    Did anyone try freezing the mixture in ready to use “ice” cube form to which you can just add the seltzer water? If so please let me know how it worked out since I am planning on trying this and want to avoid utter failure 🙂

  • Ken says:


    You have a good friend!

    As for the citric acid, I really don’t think there’s a good substitute. More lime juice may help, but the rinds will only add citric “essence” when what is needed is acidity. When you obtain citric acid, keep in mind that it is much denser than the chinchona. With a 1:1 ratio of citric acid and bark by volume, I’ve found that I need about 2 lbs of citric acid for each pound of bark powder. I got 5 lbs of citric at a good price on ebay from a supplier of biodiesel products! Yes, it’s food grade, lol.

    Personally, I’ve dropped the lemongrass due to availability and local prices and instead use crushed coriander seeds (about a Tb).

    As for making ice cubes and just dropping them in seltzer, the drink will start with a weak tonic flavor and be dominated by the gin. As the ice melts, the tonic will become stronger and the gin more dilute. Just mixing in with seltzer is probably a better option. The best is if you can carbonate the water with the tonic concentrate already mixed in. I put together something much like this:
    It cost me about $100 by finding a used 20 lb tank on craigslist and buying a regulator, but it’s very cheap to carbonate beverages (like 2 cents a liter) and has more uses than just tonic water.

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