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”

  • Jay says:

    Jeffery,

    Can you use quinine bark tea? Zooscape sells this and it seems like you could avoid the straining issues by using it.

  • Babs says:

    Not wanting to poison myself with quinine, does anyone know how much is released from 1/4 cup of bark and how many ppm is in the finished drink?

  • Richard says:

    I’ve heard citric acid is a form of MSG, what can I substitute in its place?

  • Jay says:

    Babs,

    That was another reason I was considering using the tea instead of powder. It seems that with all the powder that is left, the amount of quinine would be high.

  • Daniel F. says:

    Hey Jeffrey!

    I made two batches recently…the first was awful – epic mistake.

    The second came out alright, except that it’s excessively bitter. I think some commercial tonic waters are fairly gentle in terms of bitterness, but this one I could hardly choke down more than an ounce or so.

    Is there anything I might have done wrong in the preperation process? Boiled it too long?

    The citrusy tones are really good (I added some coriander) but the bitterness is intense. And there is a distinct bile-y note to it.

    Any ideas?

  • Mike in Sacto says:

    Made mine up with the addition of several cardamom pods and the zest and juice of 1/2 of a grapefruit. I filtered through a French press and then through a paper towel layered over a coffee filter. Color is beautiful. It came out quite strong – I am using 1/2 of an oz of the tonic with 2 oz of gin and 2+ of soda water to get a good balance. Very nice in those proportions. I think I overdid the cardamom, though. I’d probably use no more than 2 pods in future batches.

    Thanks for this!!!!

  • Babs says:

    Richard,
    True. Try substituting with a little organic cider vinegar for the citric acid.

    It’s healthier anyway. 😉

  • Joe says:

    Richard, whoever told you citric acid is a form of MSG is either woefully misinformed or is messing with you. MSG is monosodium glutamate, a salt of a naturally-occurring amino acid (MSG itself is produced in weird industrial processes and is basically to natural glutamate as high-fructose corn syrup is to fruit juice). It has a flavor termed umami, found in the taste of soy sauce, marmite, Parmesan and other cheeses, meat and meat broth, tomatoes, etc.

    Citric acid, on the other hand, has a sour flavor (it’s also called “sour salt”). It’s basically the taste of citrus fruits, except without the sweetness or the different molecules that make, eg, limes taste different from oranges.

    Anyway, you certainly wouldn’t want MSG or free glutamate in most cocktails (the Bloody Mary and the Caesar excepted), but citric acid is good. Malic acid is also okay. I tried making this recipe without citric acid, and it was really missing a big part of the flavor profile. You’d have to use a *lot* more citrus in the recipe if you omit it.

  • Babs says:

    Jay,
    I’m waiting on my quinine order. I’m planning to use basic herb tea ratios, 1 tsp to 1 cup water, so a TL of 4 tsp for this recipe. Of course this will probably throw everything else off and need more readjustment.

    I think it’s important to remember that tonic water started out as a remedy for malaria, it’s medicinal. Colonials mixed it with gin to make their daily dose of medicine more palatable and it IS possible to overdose.

    There are probably other (safer) bitter herbs you could use, a woman making it for herself could probably make it with cramp bark and get an equally similar bitter drink. Dandelion and chamomile are bitter and much safer even in what most people would consider to be high quantity – and they are MILDly bitter. So if cinchon bark is too bitter, I would suggest playing with these substitutes. 🙂

    I will make the quinine version as my family swears by it as a leg cramp remedy, but I will also try a dandelion root version for more casual use. 🙂

  • Lisa says:

    citric acid is not at all related to MSG.

    Acids make things tart, there is citric acid naturally present in lemons, limes and other citrus (see name similarity) fruits.

    MSG is Mono Sodium Glutamate, it is a umami or savory taste enhancer. There is nothing wrong with eating it either, it is some amino acids combined. Amino acids are present in food naturally, and yeast or miso paste naturally has the amino acids present, giving a similar flavor effect without it being MSG.

    The ONLY similarity to citric acid and MSG is that both can be white crystals. But then again, so are salt and sugar.

    Go ahead, use citric acid. I highly recommend it over others, vinegar would ruin the flavor for example. Too much juice may throw off the balance.

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