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”

  • Chris – I’ll be sure to polish up the old resume. Let us know how it turns out!

  • Tristan says:

    Nice recipe, mine ( is similar but I don’t use the juice as shortens the lifespan of the syrup a lot. Lemongrass sounds cool though!

    Salt? Does that work? I’m thinking of the old trick of adding salt to tonic and it tasting sweeter, because it diverts your attention from the bitterness… Personally I want that bitterness in my tonic. Agave syrup sounds cool too…

  • Chris W says:

    Thanks for this recipe Jeff. I’ve recently bought a juicer to make ginger beer, and now I guess I’ll need to get a soda siphon to make my own tonic. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while but hadn’t found a good recipe until now.

    Two questions, though. First, is agave syrup readily available? I’m not familiar with that ingredient. Second, in the G&T recipe, is it 3/4 oz of carbonated syrup and then 2oz of regular soda water, or 3/4 oz of the non-carbonated syrup and then 2oz of the carbonated version. Sorry, I’m confused about which is which.

    Thanks again, can’t wait to try this!

  • ConnorH says:

    Is cinchona the source of quinine? I find that diet tonic–which does contain a bit of quinine–keeps my legs from cramping at night. Nothing else works. Quinine is on the “prescription drug” list and it apparently has a myriad of nasty sice effects. But diet tonic works for me–homeopathic, I guess.

  • Scott says:


    I’ve been able to find agave syrup a couple places, including BevMo! and Whole Foods Market. I’m sure you could find it at a more upscale supermarket in your area.

  • Tristan – Nice recipe you’ve got there yourself! I, of course, don’t have a problem with the shelf-life of a syrup containing fruit juice, but I’m making twenty gins-and-tonics a night.

    The salt may mute the bitterness a tad, but it helps bring out all of the other flavors. It’s still nice and bitter.

    Chris W – That’s ¾ oz of syrup to 2 oz of carbonated water. You should find agave to pretty common, they’ve even got it in the bulk section of my neighborhood grocery store.

  • Oh, ConnorH – Cinchona is the source of the quinine, but I can’t speak as to any medical benefits. I’m not a doctor.

  • RMS says:

    I’d love to try this with my new favourite gin — Bulldog!

    I wonder if honey could be used instead of the agave syrup? Has anyone tried this recipe with honey? Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  • Honey is going to bring a lot of flavor to the party, but you could definitely give it a shot. I don’t know how much you’d use, but I would start with ½ cup in place of the ¾ cup of agave syrup.

    Don’t forget to let us know how it turns out!

  • Chris says:

    Ok, so Citrus Tonic #1 is complete, by the following recipe:

    4 Cups: Water
    1 1/4 Cups: Lemongrass, julienned
    Zest & juice of 2 Limes
    1/2 whole Star Anise
    1/4 Cup: powdered cinchona bark
    1/4 Cup: Citric Acid
    1/2 Tsp: whole allspice berries
    1/4 Tsp: whole Cardamom pods, bruised
    1/4 Tsp: Kosher Salt

    As a stand-alone Tonic water, not so awesome – a little too heavy on the bitter/sour side of the spectrum. It gets a little more manageable with an extra splash of seltzer.
    When I made a G&T with the last of my Distillery 209 Gin (& the extra spalsh of seltzer) however, it came out wonderfully! Didn’t need to add a squeeze of Lime to the drink & the anise and Cardamom came through on the finish alongside the various botanicals of the gin.

    All in all, pretty excellent – though I’m going to fiddle with some of the proportions – maybe a touch less lime, sub back in some lemon.

    Cheers & Thanks again!

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