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”

  • Sara says:

    While reading this I am sipping on a gin and slimline tonic, I’ve just added the ingredients to my next shopping list.

    Thanks for the recipe!

  • Aaron says:

    I’m really excited to give this a try, though I admit I’ve had a hard time finding the bark in NYC. Its rare that I strike out with Kalustyans.

    But I’m excited because I’d love to have a tonic water that was less sweet. Great article though! and glad to see so many other comment-ers are enthusiastic about good tonic water too!

  • Arcto Staphylos says:

    Just found this thread. Been making tonic for a while. My recipe, which is changing every time of course, is quite different — cardamon, coriander, juniper, 4 lemongrass stalks, zest and juice of lime, lemon, orange and sometimes grapefruit, much less citric, a touch of sumac for citric tang, no allspice and so on. That’s neither important nor why I’m here.

    Filtering is my point. I really want a clear syrup. I think a lot of the bitterness of the bark remains if its not filtered adequately. Seems to be a major problem for most. If you’re lucky enough to have a chinoise, you’re golden. I borrowed one once and couldn’t believe how well it worked. But the damn things are pricey.

    For the rest of us, try a sieve first to get out the big stuff. Press out as much liquid as you can. Then filter through 4 (or more)layers of cheese cloth. Then a coffee filter. Even so, I’ve sometimes had to pour off the liquid from the top of the coffee filter after several hours into yet another coffee filter. That works.

  • LaCheshireChat says:

    For those of us in Europe, Cinchona bark can be sourced from Luminescents, a UK-based company. They also have a wide array of other essential oils, spices, herbs, etc.

  • MBQ says:

    If I use the soda siphon do I still need the soda water? Thanks for the recipe can’t wait to us eit.

  • Bruce says:

    I’ve been using this for 6 months now… only problem is that friends want me to make theirs.

    I’ve experimented with cooking up the chinchona bark separately (in 1 1/2 cups water) filtering this and then adding the liquid to the other ingredients. I filter with a series of Melita #6 filters in small lots and squeeze out the liquid from the dregs with my hand. I end up with 1 cup of good chinchona liquid. When I mix this with the other ingredients I can filter the final batch more or less to preserve some of the citrus juiciness.

    Thanks again for the recipe!

  • Chris T says:

    Is it possible to just get pre-extracted quinine (and where)? Then just add quinine to some sparkling water and the rest of the ingredients?

  • Peg says:

    I’ve taken a different tack altogether – no water and no cooking – just an alcoholic infusion.
    To about 250ml gin I add 2 teaspoons finely chopped (not powdered) yellow chinchona bark, 1 teaspoon citric acid, 2 whole cloves, 2 cardomom pods, the thin peel of a lime and a lemon, and a pinch of mace. I leave the jar in the fridge for 3 weeks, then add about 100ml agave nectar. After another week I pour the liquid through 2 layers of muslin into a stoppered bottle.
    To serve, I take half to one shot of the flavoured gin, 0 to 2 shots plain gin, and top up with sparkling water. (I prefer it on the bitter side, so I keep the agave to a minimum – most people like more).

  • Chris T says:

    Also an FYI that at they have the Cinchona (Peruvian Bark Powder) for $13.80 a pound plus most the other ingredients, like citric acid, allspice, and lemongrass. I don’t know how you are suppose to know how much quinine concentrations you can get out of the bark but at least nobodies likely to overdose this way.

  • Mark says:

    Guys, I’ve read all the above comments, and what is most frustrating is people’s illogical desire for a “clear” tonic… Bottom line is if your using ingredients such as lemons, oranges, allspice and bark, you will NEVER get a clear product. The way commercial bottlers do it is they utilise food grade oils, essences and extracts which have been manufactured in a lab, and then chemically bound with water (so they do not separate)… And more often than not, these oils are artificial and synthetic, which is why the end product (i.e. the Tonic Water) comes out “crystal clear”!

    Stick with the natural products (for your health’s sake) and don’t give a damn if the end result ain’t so “clear”!

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