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”

  • Petro says:

    Just made this, and can’t wait to sample the results!

    Thought I would share this tip: if you aren’t familiar with the Aeropress (which makes an amazing cup of coffee), it is like a French press, but uses a small paper filter. Since you have the ability to pressurize the liquid tube, you can force the tonic mixture through in about 3-4 minutes and get out all the solids.

    I filtered the tonic water successfully using my Aeropress, and got a very clean liquid for the tonic – I also ended up with a 1/2-inch “puck” that looked pretty cool . . .

  • Matt says:

    @Petro, What a great idea, I’ve got an aeropress, but when I make this I normally use a french press. I think I’m going to try with the aeropress next time.

    Thanks for the tip!

  • Bruce says:

    I’ve been using this formula for a couple years. This time I’m going to try something new. Because I add a bit of Vodka into the liquid in the fridge to help it keep (… and I do not add the agave/simple syrup until I am decanting a cup to use), I’m infusing small amounts of vodka with different spices (coriander, cumin, rosemary, and cardamom) to try to see if these accents go better with different gins (Junipero, Aviation, Hendricks, etc.). I’ll add a tablespoon of the infused vodka to a cup of the unsweetened tonic. I’ll leave out the allspice.

  • Atalanta says:

    Made up a batch and, even though I don’t care for tonic (my BF does) I tasted it against a bottle of Canada Dry sitting in the fridge and it was pretty close.

    To get the peel, I used a vegie peeler rather than zesting all that fruit. I strained it through cheese cloth. Keeping it in the fridge though I may add a tetch of everclear to the next batch to help preserve (though with all that citric acid, I doubt its necessary).

    Had to reassure the people I gave it to taste that “brown” (IMO its more rust) color is OK!! Homemade stuff is often a little different looking than commercial made.

  • Nick says:

    Just made some of this tonight, what a great thing. Thanks for the recipe. I bet this page is driving 98% of Peruvian bark sales on the Internet.

  • Mark says:

    Okay, so I’ve tried this recipe twice. The first time I followed it exactly. Results: SUPER bitter; completely undrinkable. The second time I cut back on the cinchona bark powder & didn’t steep as long. Results: SUPER bitter. I had to add a lot of sweetener just to make it “somewhat” palatable. I’ve had some homemade tonics at locate bars in Mpls, and this isn’t even close to those. HELP. Any suggestions?

  • Atalanta says:

    When you’re doing the citrus skins, are you getting NO pith (white stuff)? That will make it bitter. I used a peeler (like what you use for potatoes) and used that to get the colored part of the citrus skin. I also used cut bark instead of powder (1oz of bark) which is easier to strain out.

  • Zachary says:


    Tried looking on the other comments if the topic was covered before. Any stores in Portland, OR that have cinchona bark?

  • Jeff Keys says:

    For those troubled by excessive bitterness, like my wife, try removing as much of the pith from the zest as possible. Varying the amount of quinine also helps control bitterness.

    Love this stuff.

  • Boara Gin says:

    Whata a interesting post!! Its pretty easy to understand and to follow the recipe…we surely try it!!

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