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”

  • Adam says:

    So I’m just finishing up my first batch of this and…wow. This thing is really, really bitter. I haven’t cooled the syrup just yet, but I sure hope this mixes better than it tastes right now. My method was:

    1) put all the solid non-dissolving ingredients (everything but the salt, citric acid, etc.) into muslin bags to reduce the filtering need later;

    2) zest the citrus with a knife and lots of scraping, no microplane;

    3) one run through a coffee filter before sweetening.

    4) I ran about 1/2 cup short of agave and so threw in 1/4 cup of sugar.

    5) Oh, and I fresh-ground the cinchona in my Braun coffee grinder that I use for spices.

    As I haven’t tasted cinchona outside of Schweppes or whatever, I’m wondering: how important is it to get every last bit of pith out of the citrus before throwing in the zest? Or is the cinchona really just supplying most of the bitterness that I’m tasting and thinking could be coming from the pith?

    (And is there any way to salvage this thing if it’s still too bitter to mix?)

  • Dora says:


    Agave syrup is sweeter than sugar, not the other way around. So I think that if you were 1/2 cup short on agave, what you should do is dissolve 3/4 cup sugar in water (heat the sugar and water to a boil while you stir and the sugar dissolves, then lower the heat to a simmer and reduce the syrup until you’re comfortable with the volume [so that the mixture will be concentrated enough for your liking]). Since you’ve already added 1/4 cup sugar, you should do this with an extra 1/2 cup of sugar, and then slowly add the sugar syrup until the tonic syrup is of desired sweetness. That is if you really are only 1/2 cup short on agave–notice that the recipe calls for 3/4 cup FOR EVERY CUP OF TONIC SYRUP, not just 3/4 cup.

    Also, you do need to strain out all of the zest, but I would think a run through a coffee filter would have done that well. The zest will continue to add bitterness as long as it’s steeping. If you can see bits of zest, you need to strain again, IMO, but I am very sensitive to the particular bitterness of zest.

  • Dora says:

    Oh, and I didn’t explicitly say so, but I think your bitterness problem is a lack of sugar problem, and not a citrus problem, especially b/c the zest itself lends much more bitterness than the pith.

  • Adam says:

    Ah, that’s right, I realized this morning that I’d got the sugar/agave thing backwards. I’ll try reheating with another 1/2 cup and see what that does.

    The muslin bag prevented pretty much all the pith from actually physically going into the mixture. I was mainly wondering if enough could have infused in to turn the whole thing bitter beyond redemption.

  • Dora says:

    Ok, so I tried this with the powdered cinchona, and I simply could not filter out all of the powder. I ended up putting it in my fridge and waiting for it to settle naturally, and then pouring it into another container, leaving a silt-like mixture at the bottom of the first vessel. It wasn’t the most efficient method of filtering ever, but it did work. Then when I was in New York, I bought the cut cinchona bark (not powdered) from Kalustyan’s (yay for a brick-and-mortar actually having this). I used 1/2 cup, but it wasn’t nearly enough. So I simmered an extra cup of cinchona in some water for twenty minutes, removed the bark, then reduced the liquid until it was about 1/2 cup of straight quinine syrup, and added that to my tonic water. Yum! Also, for the sugar-free people, I used 3 cup of powdered erythritol and 1/2 teaspoon of stevia powder for the entire batch, and that was perfect (IMO). I was worried that if I used granular erythritol it wouldn’t dissolve properly, as it does tend to have trouble doing so.

  • Eric says:

    Has anyone tried this stuff off of Amazon? Wondering if it’s similar to the cut Cinchona bark that Dora found in New York? I ordered some to test out, hopefully it works!

  • Adam says:

    Iquick report on how mine turned out – once enough sweetener was added, it’s pretty darn good in a G&T with Beefeater. A tonic this strong really needs a dry, piney gin though. I first tried it with my home-infused gins, which are more like “lemon/herb vodkas” at the moment because I haven’t yet gotten the hang of getting enough juniper flavor into the infusion. Against this weaker “gin,” and I imagine in a straight vodka tonic. the tonic is just overpowering and the whole thing tastes like I imagine old-timey cough medicine would.

  • Eric says:

    So update on the Amazon bark- success! Used my spice/coffee grinder to chop it up a bit finer, worked really well. I’ve made 4 batches with it and have found out a couple of things- I boil the bark by itself for about 30 minutes and filter that with the coffee filters- goes really fast (4 cups of water, reduced down to about 2) and then add that into a pot with another two cups of water and use Organic Erythritol as the sweetener- no calories, no nasty aftertaste- in fact, AWESOME!! Super stoked to finally have a diet no calorie tonic that tastes good.

  • Atalanta says:

    After making the mistake of reading a bottle of tonic, I wanted to try my own. Haven’t yet, need to get the bark.

    However, here are some suppliers others might find useful: – you can get most of the herbs, including the bark. They have a brick and mortar store in Philly if you’re local. – bulk herb supply. Get my tea, stevia, citric acid, and other herbs from. I didn’t see the bark there though. – beverage supply. If you got one of those glass and mesh siphons on eBay, you can most likely get the charger holder here.

    If you have trouble getting kosher salt, pickling/canning salt is also just pure NaCl, just a finer grind.

    1/4 cup powdered bark = 1oz. So if you need to substitute whole or chunky, use 1oz.

    Craft stores and pier 1 are also good bottle sources. I’ve found good ones at thrift stores and yard/garage sales.

  • Kelly says:

    Has anyone tried using the Soda Stream machine instead of a soda siphon?

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