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”

  • Nice work, Chris! I think mine’s probably a little sweeter/fruitier with the orange I used (actually a Tangelo), so that explains it.

    Have you tried yours with Aviation gin? I’d think that the creamy sweetness would offset the bitter/sourness in a pleasant way.

    I look forward to hearing more!


  • Chris says:

    It’s funny – I’ve been looking for Aviation for a little while now but to no avail (who distributes that outside of Oregon, more specifically to the greater NJ/NY area?).

    I’m sadly also at a loss for more #209 – probably should’ve scaled the Tonic recipe down a bit as I’ve now got a big bottle of tonic, but no more 209 left to mix it with.

    On the creamy v. bitter/sour note – the tonic mixes passably well with Plymouth – the ‘velvety’ character of it does kind of what your saying. Sadly, the flavor of it gets a little bit overpowered – not bad, but not quite what the 209 mix was. I’m wondering how a Genever would fare here – I’ll check that out next.


  • I don’t know about their distributorship, but you might check their website.

    I can see Plymouth going well with your recipe. I’ve got a bottle Genever here at home, so I might have to bring it to work tomorrow night to test it with my own.

    On a side-note, the folks that produce Aviation tell me that they intended for it to be a Genever-style gin, so you might be on to something with your experiments. Let us know how you fare!

  • Deana says:

    We tried the tonic recipe–so refreshing on a hot day! But a weird thing: If we put the soda on the syrup it foams up like crazy, but syrup into soda was no problem.

  • Deana

    I should have mentioned this in the original post, because you’re right, the mixture will foam up if you blast carbonated water directly into the syrup.

    An old bartender’s trick is this: squirt the soda water into your cocktail shaker (or any other vessel) and then slowly pour the carbonated water into the glass containing the syrup. Voila, no more foam.

    This trick is essential when making drinks like the Ramos Fizz, when squirting soda water directly into the glass would result in egg foam all over yourself and the bar (and undoubtedly your customers)

    Thanks for writing.

  • ingi says:

    Where can I find cinchona bark? Is there a website where one can buy online?


  • Kevin says:

    Great recipe… I haven’t tried this yet, but do you think running the cooled down base through a Brita water filter would kill the taste?


  • Kevin says:

    And for Ingi… this is where I and a few others I know have purchased cinchona…

  • Kevin

    I don’t know, but as much of the point of a Brita is to filter out impurities, I can see it removing much of the flavor. Only one way to find out, though.

    And thanks for the link, it’s good to have more options and that price looks quite reasonable.

  • Andrew says:

    I’m a bit confused as to how you’re carbonating the tonic. Do you add water and syrup to a soda siphon, or do you keep the syrup in a separate bottle and simply add soda from the gun?


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