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 jeffreymorgenthaler.com

261 Replies to “How to Make Your Own Tonic Water”

  • Andrew

    Yes.

    Seriously, though, you could do both. I keep my soda and syrup separate for this one, but that’s just my personal preference. There’s no reason why you couldn’t fill your iSi soda siphon with the right proportions and go.

  • Andrew says:

    Jeffery,

    Batch one following your recipe turned out pretty darn good. Nice call on the French press, all other stories of homemade tonic I’ve encountered involve hours of slow straining.

    Batch two is on the stove now and aimed towards the cucumber notes of 12 Bridges gin. I cut back on the citrus and allspice, bumped up the lemongrass and added dried lavender.

    I’ll let y’all know how it turns out after my shift tonight. With a little luck, I can convince my managers to start putting house-made tonic on the menu.

  • Nice work, Andrew, and good luck!

  • Kolbe says:

    Yay, I just finished my first batch based on your recipe. *sip*

    The only thing I’m a bit surprised by is the filtering. I expected it would be a hassle, but it’s pretty remarkably how suspended in solution all the bark particles still are even hours and hours later.

    I tried the French press, but the liquid is still opaque. I tried coffee filters, which, as you suggest, are mostly useless. Are you seeing different results with the French press, or do you settle for an opaque syrup?

  • Kolbe – I settle for a slightly opaque syrup. If there are particles still in suspension, I don’t consider it a major cosmetic flaw, and by the time you water it down with gin and soda, the particles become pretty much negligible.

  • Chris Hansen says:

    Jeffrey, thanks for the recipe! It turned out really nicely for me and I’m looking forward to sharing it with my friends. I’m sipping my second G&T, this one with Rogue spruce gin–a nice complement.

    I do find that the allspice makes it a little too..yule-tidy for my taste. Is it needed to mellow the bitter of the quinine? Do you have a suggestion for a substitute?

  • Hey Chris Hansen – You know the rules around here. Don’t like the allspice? Leave it out. Seriously, you could try juniper berries, cardamom, coriander, whatever you like. Just be sure to come back and report your findings here.

  • Tom says:

    I worked up a derivative of this recipe. It turned out tasting almost tea-like, which took a couple G&Ts to get used to, but the added nuance was appreciated. I’m going to throw in some juniper berries next to see how if accents the juniper in my gin. I left out the lemongrass, orange and allspice in my first recipe.

    One thing I wasn’t ready for was the lack of sweetener in it. The store bought tonics contain loads more sugar than I realized, so I’m going to make up a batch of the simple syrup to add.

  • Tom

    I think you missed this crucial step:

    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. Stir until combined, and store in the attractive bottle of your choice.

  • Tom says:

    I ended up liking leaving it out, as I could easily flavor the sweetness, depending on my mood/food. I just got done making the tonic recipe again, and didn’t go through with the sweetener, preferring to add it as needed.

    One thing I don’t understand is if the purpose of the citric acid is to act as a flavoring agent to give the tonic ‘bite’, or if it’s there for it’s preservative qualities.

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