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”

  • Phoebe says:

    I am in the process of making my first batch. I, too, had roughly cut cinchona and just went at it a bit with my mortar and pestle, leaving some chunks. Was a little heavy handed with that and the lemongrass as it is summer and I thought a nice bitter syrup would go well with The Botanist. I’m writing because I had no problems straining my mixture with a muslin cloth draped inside a sieve. Worked like a charm with the hot mixture and will be easy clean up too!
    Thanks so much for the recipe,

  • Randy Hanson says:

    Jim_cat and others, the Bar Book is out and it does indeed have an updated tonic recipe. I just finished making it and I have to say, I DO like it better. In many ways it’s simpler: fewer ingredients. It also opts for making a cinchona tincture rather than a full steep in hot water. This make so much sense and adds a level of control over the bitterness at the end. It’s also a bit lighter in color and remains clear (though still dark enough to prove it’s house made). I’ll be making the new version from now on and I encourage everyone to buy the book and try it!

  • Jim_cat says:

    Thanks Randy! On it’s way via amazon! Here is the link for others.

  • Peter Couzens says:

    Hi Jeff, what a fabulous blog, 5 years old or more and still going.
    I notice a few people have asked abojt using a tincture of Cinchona and i bought one that is already mixed with Citirc Acid, from Only Bitters, an Online Aussie company. But i dont know how much of the tincture to use.any ideas? Thanks

  • Dave Guth says:

    This blog has probably caused a run on the Cinchona Bark! Priced today from Penn Herbal $30 per pound, bark or powder. $10 for 4 oz. Looks like many have ordered it! Can’t wait to start experimenting…

  • Matthew Andrews says:

    Hi all.
    I have just made batch no 2. Following Jeffs recipe. Good gear it is too. Perfect for the long hot summers down here in Aus.
    Thanks for all the tips.

  • Dan AKA roaming-gastrognome says:

    Being a huge fan of G&Ts I’m preparing to make my own tonic per your recipe. As a professional chef I’ve had so many people approach me recently to ask about specific ingredients as they relate to health issues.
    Recent research as shown that the high fructose content of agave syrup is dangerous for our livers (agave contains more fructose than high fructose corn syrup). Therefore I intend to try this recipe with honey as the substitute.

  • Andy F says:

    OK, call me a sick puppy but I’m now going to try carbonating gin-plus-syrup in my old Sparklet soda fountain – no extra water.

    Shazam! more than a pint of ready-to-drink max-strength G&T!

  • andrew.southafrica says:

    Im trying to find a good tonic out there to make an espresso tonic ( Has anyone ever tried one?

    Im going to try using this recipe to make one.thanks

  • Kevin says:

    I am finding citric acid hard to find here (Bahamas). Is it possible to up the amount of lemon juice as a substitute? Or can anyone suggest an alternative?

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