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”

  • beejay says:

    Those of you who are finding your mix unbearably bitter, did you read the sweetener instructions carefully:
    “¾ cup of agave syrup to each cup of your hot mix”
    That’s each cup, not the whole batch.

    Atalanta — the ratio of powdered bark to cut and sifted wouldn’t be 1:1 because the powder has tons more surface area to give up it’s flavor as you infuse. The bark itself will take way more to get the same flavor, but it also won’t leave so much debris behind. You’d have to compare prices to see which would be more cost effective.

  • Sue B says:

    Zahchary – I took the name of the bark into a Chinese Herb Shop (Wing Wang on SE 82nd near Fubon). They looked it up and found the Shinese name for it. The bag had a different English name on it – they said the English name was wrong. They sold me a pound of the bark in a paper bag. It worked great. I did grind it a bit in a coffee grinder before using it. Worked great.

  • StephK says:

    I’ve been enjoying making this recipe and tweaking it each time. Next batch will have some juniper berries in it. Anyone have any suggestions on how much to put in?
    Don’t want it to taste like a Christmas tree, but would like it to be subtly flavored.

  • Glenda says:

    Great looking recipe!

    Can anyone tell me if this will work with Cinchona Bark Tincture instead of bark?


  • Christophe says:

    Tried it 3 times so far and refining it to my taste and experimenting with different herbs ( bay leaves, kefir leaves, koriander..)

    Tips and tricks
    1) Put the herbs and bark in a muslin. No muddy mixtures.
    2) Replace agave syrup with sugar 1:1 works but could be too sweet. Next time I will 1 part sugar 2 parts liquid

    1 and 2) gives you a cleaner base syrup with more body

    3) I got this from the herborist after a translation mistake. Combretum micranthum. It is african, leaves instead of bark. Should give the bitters with less wood. Next time am going to replace half of the bark with this.

  • CPepe831 says:

    Last night I must have made 10 different batches of tonic syrup using this recipe along with some others, including the Imbibe magazine one. I have to say, using the cut & sifted bark is so much more practical and less time consuming. I used double what the recipe calls for in powder, and it strained out of there with ease. Look for it on, search “cinchona” and see what comes up.

    I also made a batch where i threw an entire pack (1.2oz) of freeze dried strawberries in the pot, also added a pinch of cardamom seed. Unreal. Get creative people!

  • beejay says:

    I finally found a seller in Honduras on eBay who sells the bark whole, a pound at a time.

    You have to bash it up yourself, but what you leave whole will last better than when it’s already cut or, especially, powdered.

    They also have raw cacao beans, so I’m going to try making my own Creme de Cacao or something similar. Tasty.

  • Atalanta says:

    I found the 1oz of cut bark to work well for me. It’s small chunks rather than powder.

    FYI I get my herbs from Penn Herb ( They tend to have a lot of the more esoteric stuff, like the cinchona bark (choice of cut or powdered).

  • Ralph M. Rollo says:

    I made a batch of tonic syrup the other day using a bit of a lot of online reciepes. found somthing that really cut down on filtering time using the powdered bark. I made little “tea bags” out of some coffee filters wrapped in cheesecloth, trust me it was NOT that labor intensive. I travel so much for work that I hate making things hard when I am at home. I added an extra cup of water and let the “bags” steep occasionally pressing with the flat of a spoon. Worked out great. Since I don’t drink a lot I then took equal measures of the water and froze it rather than add syrup right away. So like now, when I’m finally home, let a batch thaw, heat up, add sugar and then bbq with a cold gin and tonic in hand!!!!

  • J. Holcomb says:

    Excited to try this, I gathered ingredients – including powdered cinchona from herbaladvantage. Followed the recipe, but I don’t taste the bitterness at all. I made a batch of just steeped cinchona by itself to try to isolate the problem, and there is no bitterness at all. I think folks here may be confusing sourness and acidity for bitterness. Could this be a bad batch of cinchona? Shouldn’t it have some bitterness on it’s own? Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks.

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