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”

  • Barbara says:

    This is a great recipe! We add the syrup to a cocktail shaker with 2 cubes of ice and Gin. Shake and pour into glasses (with ice) and pour Club Sode (small bottles so they have alot of fizz)…the best!!!

    Time to make another batch!

  • Barbara says:

    Opps. I meant Club Soda!

  • 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.

  • ruthie says:

    J. Holcomb, your bark was probably old and had lost its oomph. I buy the whole bark because it stays fresher when there’s not so much surface area exposed to the air. Got mine on eBay from some place in Honduras. HTH

  • Dora says:

    got to be bad cinchona. the steeped cinchona by itself should be intensely bitter (not sour).

  • hi,
    i want to send these to some people but it might take a day or two to deliver…will they still stay good if theyre not in the fridge during that travel time (i plan to splash some vodka in to stretch out their shelf life)?

  • Undine says:

    Having read through all these comments about how hard the straining process is, I’m now wondering if I did something wrong. I made a batch of this tonic yesterday for the first time (I’ve just recently discovered the joys of g&ts,) and it worked like a charm. I passed it through a normal strainer, then a layer of cheesecloth, and it was a beautiful clear amber.

    The taste was heavenly, but a bit heavy on the agave for my taste. I rather like the bitterness, so I’ll put less sweetening in next time.

    I used a chinchona tea I bought from Amazon. It was listed as “powdered” bark, but it was more like small, hard pieces. Does it come in a more “powdery” form?

    Anyway, thank you, Jeffrey, for providing this recipe. It’s a true nectar of the gods!

  • Tim Wright says:

    Apologies for “necroing” the thread, but I just wanted to say a huge thank you to Jeffrey (and all of the other thread contributors). I just made my first batch with small tweaks, most particularly substituting cane sugar for the agave syrup, and it’s delightful!

    I too obtained a 1lb bag of the cinchona bark via Amazon. I’m going to experiment with reducing it to a finer consistency without turning it into powder. As others have said, it’s fairly tough stuff. As it is, I just hand sifted out some of the finer bark from the bag. The quinine extraction seems to be pretty much perfect. There’s a distinct bitterness, but not to excess.


  • JIm_Cat says:

    Jeff, I was in the bar last year. I photographed you for AAA magazine. (The shots turned out great in the mag) At that time you told me you were working on an update to this recipe (and a book?) Can I get an update? Thanks,

  • Jacque says:

    I am very excited to try making this tonic syrup. My husband has Leukemia (CML) and takes a miracle pill once a day that keeps it totally under control. Unfortunately the miracle pill comes with side effects. Excruciating muscle spasms. Dr.”prescribed” Tall G and T’s are daily medicine…often drunken in beer steins at bars to get enough quinine. So my question. How much Quinine is there in 3/4 oz of syrup? No point in upping the taste and lowering the sugar of his G and T’s if he doesn’t get his required quinine fix!
    Thanks for your help

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