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”

  • Tom says:

    I’ve followed the blog for years and make many of your recipes. But regarding the opacity of the tonic I solved that with some common laboratory items. You need a buchner funnel, filters, a filter flask and some 3/8″ ID tubing (all from http://www.labdepotinc.com), and a hand vacuum pump from a car parts store. Make sure the filter paper fits the buchner funnel. I run my tonic thru a chinois first, then hook up the filter apparatus with a coarse filter, then a fine filter. The tonic ends up clear but still maintains color from the ingredients. All for less than my sodastream.

  • Ian says:

    Just finished cooking up my latest batch of this—my friends and I can’t get enough of it. Thanks, Jeff, for this recipe and all the others I’ve culled from your website.

    For my part, I’ve taken to decanting to do most of the straining work for me. I used to put coffee filters on every clean dish I could find, running around to keep the filters from clogging or breaking, but that got old quick. Now I put my post-boil “soup” through a fine-mesh metal strainer, then let it sit (covered) overnight in a wide-base wine decanter in the fridge. The sludge settles out pretty well, and while I might be ending up with less final product than I would with patient filtering, the simplicity makes it totally worth it.

  • Neal says:

    Excited to try this recipe, I picked up a sodastream and my first thought was to make tonic water.

    Another source for cinchona bark powder — from chowhound — is Penn Herbs:

    http://www.pennherb.com/scan/co=yes/sf=category/se=Herbs/sf=description/se=Cinchona%20Bark.html

  • Rita says:

    Am about to make this for the first time and the bark came in chunks, not powder…but I do plan to use it because it was expensive. So the plan is to whiz a bit in the blender just to break it up and proceed. Maybe with chunked bark, the particulate in the finished tonic is not as much a problem? Just hope the quinine leaches out.
    Thanks for the basic recipe!

  • David says:

    Great recipe,

    In Japan, you can purchase empty tea bags with a fold-over top. I brought several hundred of these home when I moved back to the states. Putting the cinchona in the bags prior to steeping essentially pre-filters the mixture. I suppose you could also use filled teabags, empty the tea out and staple close.

  • Scott says:

    Jeffrey – first of all, what a great idea .. I appreciate you hosting this forum!

    I gathered together all the ingredients this weekend and got busy making my own tonic. I used cinchona bark chips, so I didn’t have the challenges others have mentioned about filtering.

    My challenge – when I mix together the gin & tonic & soda water … all the bubbles fizz right out of the tonic, and i’m left with a flat (but tasty) g&t.

    Is there a secret to keeping the drink carbonated?

    Thanks!

  • Rita says:

    We’ve actually charged the tonic mix directly (with soda stream) and that holds for as long as it sticks around. And is delish. Just an idea vs adding soda water.

  • James says:

    I just tried extracting the chinchona bark using a vacuum pot and it seems to have worked really well. I put all the other ingredients (but only 2 cups of water) in a saucepan, and the other 2 cups of water in the bottom of the vacuum pot (and the bark in the top). After extracting I have powder in the top and a dark brown non-cloudy liquid in the bottom. I’m going to run it through some coffee filters to see if I get more powder coming out but this seems like a good way to extract the quinine very quickly.
    I used a Bodum vacuum pot.

  • Michele says:

    I have wanted to try out your recepie for a year now and this summer I am finally going to do it! My reasons for wanting to make my own tonic are far different. I HATE how quicky tonic goes flat. I can’t stand flat gin & tonics in bars either. My husband just bought me the ISI siphon so now I can stop waisting all my money on store bought tonic. I am such a bubbles snob. It goes flat immediately even in the small bottles. I can’t wait to make my own. I go to Portland often from Seattle. I’d love to come to the bar. What is it called and where is it?

  • Ryan Pedersen says:

    I am planning on bottling this recipe for my friend’s upcoming 30th birthday since he is a big time Gin and Tonic drinker. Any suggestions for me on where to find a bottle to put it in? Something vintage/unique would be awesome!

    Thanks

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