Refreshingly delicious and definitely worth the time, trouble and expense. All I can say is WOW!!!
I realize this is a little late but what can I say? One of my favorite soft drinks, if not my favorite, is tonic water, i.e. quinine water. I like the balanced bittersweetness of it. I started drinking tonic in my early 20s when I was first introduced to gin and tonic. It’s such a refreshing drink on a hot, sweltering, summer day of which we have plenty here in DFW. As time passed, I realized it was the tonic in the gin and tonic that made the drink. So, I dropped the gin and started drinking the tonic by itself. Then kids came and we didn’t keep soda pop in the house because 4 kids on a sugar rush was way too much to handle. Nonetheless, when I did get a carbonated drink I always went to tonic water. Fast forward to about 18 months ago, Baby Lady decided to buy a Soda Stream. It really was more for Quickstep than us because we drink wine instead of soda. Nevertheless, Baby Lady does enjoy her coca cola and root beer. Tonic water, however, was never an option because there was no tonic syrup. Then I started hearing about homemade tonic water and became very curious. Could it possibly be true? How good would i be? Would it be too bitter or too sweet?
Now, I could sit here and write about all the health aspects of quinine to convince you to give this a try. I mean, quinine was first used for medicinal treatment of malaria. You see quinine is derived from cinchona bark, the bark from a shrub originating in Peru but now cultivated in various tropical climes worldwide. Truth be told, tonic water is in your gin and tonic because it was used to treat malaria and is an analgesic and natural muscle relaxant. In medicinal doses, however, cinchona is mind bogglingly bitter – so bitter that even when taken in capsules it has a tendency to upset your stomach. As distribution of cinchona spread in the 18th century, the British began mixing their quinine prescription with gin, lime and sugar, so it was palatable. This was kinda like cocaine being an original part of coca cola. Put enough sugar with darn near anything and you can tolerate it. 🙂 Of course, subsequently it was determined that quinine has very little medicinal value. It does, however, make an incredibly delicious drink and gin and tonic has lasted for generations. So, with that in mind I had to try making my own quinine water and off to the internet I went. What I discovered is that there are so many different recipes for tonic. There were, however, certain commonalities. First, all of them used cinchona bark although most used powdered cinchona bark as opposed to cinchona bark pieces. Second, all of them used cardamon. Third, all of them used allspice. All of them also used various citrus zest but it varied as to amounts and types of citrus. Last, the vast majority of them were sweetened with sugar in the form of simple syrup. Other than these basic ingredients everyone took great license in how they flavored their tonic. Some used juniper berries and one even used lavender. All of the tonic waters, however, were amber in color, not the crystal clear I was used to buying. Hence, I had to find out why. After a little more research, I discovered that commercial manufacturers of quinine used quinine extract which is clear. Not knowing how they make quinine extract, I opted for cinchona bark pieces. I figured filtering the powder would be a huge headache. Given how difficult it was to strain the particles from the cinchona bark pieces, I don’t want to know the headache of powdered cinchona bark. Regardless, this is an unbelievably delicious drink and, if you even remotely like tonic, you will love making your own. This is what I did.
- 4 cups water
- 1/3 cup cinchona bark pieces (available in bulk at Amazon)
- 3 – 3-1/2 cups rich simple syrup (by volume, two parts sugar to one part boiling water – don’t use 4 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water because it will NOT equal 4 cups of rich simple syrup)
- 1/4 cup anhydrous citric acid (commonly called lemon salt – available at local supermarkets in the canning aisle but is also available on Amazon)
- 2 limes, zested
- 2 lemons, zested
- 1 grapefruit, zested
- 2 lemongrass stalks, chopped
- 11 whole allspice berries
- 6 whole cardamom pods
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
First, make a rich simple syrup by adding the water to a sauce pot
followed by the sugar
Bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar and set aside. You won’t need it for at least a week. 🙂
Now, in a large pot, add the lemon grass
the allspice berries
the cardamon pods
the sea salt
the lime zest
the lemon zest
the grapefruit zest
Bring it to a boil
Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to cool thoroughly. When cool, pour the mixture through a superfine mesh Chinoise.
Transfer to a quart jar – it will almost be completely full with a brownish, muddy looking liquid. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to look like this.
Put the liquid and the rich simple syrup in the fridge and allow it to sit for 5 days. During this time some of the remaining superfine particles will settle to the bottom. Strain the mixture through muslin cloth or a coffee filter without disturbing the sediment on the bottom. We actually opted to do both but by the time it had filtered through the muslin, the coffee filter filtered nothing we could see. It will yield you approximately 3 cups of usable brown stained liquid. Mix together with equal parts of the rich simple syrup and viola, approximately 6 cups of tonic water syrup for your drinking pleasure. 🙂
Mind you this is a syrup, not the actual tonic water. To make the actual tonic water you need to add seltzer, either seltzer from your Soda Stream or store bought soda water. I make tonic with our Soda Stream by filling the Soda Stream bottle about 1/2 inch below the fill line. Charge the water with CO2 from the Soda Stream. Add 3.5 oz of tonic syrup and you have the most delicious tonic water you will ever try.
Now, to make the best gin and tonic you have ever had, combine over ice 3/4 oz of syrup, 1-1/2 oz. gin, and 2 oz. of seltzer water from your trusty Soda Stream (or from a bottle of soda water). Stir and finish with a nice 1/8 cut of lime. Enjoy!!!
31 thoughts on “Homemade Tonic Water”
Richard, you make my heart sing. I adore G&T. After recently trying some artisan gins, Pure south from NZ, Hendricks from Scotland, boutique tonic seemed to be needed to match the individual botanical highlights of each, but at $6 for 300mls it makes a G&T cocktail bar price without the sassy waiter and paper umbrellas. This is definitely the next step, and if summer ever appears I’ll be ready and waiting. Thank you !!!!!
Hi, Sandra. Glad I could make your heart sing. 🙂 I really love this. I made it October 3 and strained it about a week later. I have now consumed 4 cups of the syrup and will start another batch next week. I bought a pound of cinchona bark pieces and a pound of citric acid and hardly put a dent in either. So, there is no excuse not to keep making it. 🙂 Also, the cost per unit is very inexpensive – a whole lot less than $6/300 ml. My “guess” is on the order of $US 2 – 3/750 ml.
The ingredients are on their way………..
How long will the tonic last after you make it? I love this idea!
The syrup will only last until you drink it all. 😦 Because it is a syrup, it will last indefinitely. You will drink it all before it has a chance to lose its flavor or go bad.
This is fascinating! One thing… is it worth the cost and the effort? Seems like a lot of work, even though I pretty much prefer everything made from scratch!
Hi, Mimi. It is well worth the cost and the effort. The effort isn’t really that much and the cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of $ 2/qt of syrup. Given that I use 5 oz of syrup/qt of tonic water, it equates to roughly $ 0.30 per quart of tonic water plus whatever is the unit cost of the Soda Stream. The biggest cost is the cinchona bark and the sugar. Of course you have to buy limes and lemons and a grapefruit (not to mention the spices); however, we keep all of those items on hand and constantly use them in cooking. So, I really don’t factor them in as part of the cost because all you are using is the zest. If you like tonic water, this is definitely the way to go. I will be making another batch next week and may never buy commercial tonic water again.
So, I’m guessing you can buy fresh lemongrass where you live?
Yes. We have several Asian markets nearby – within 6 miles
WOW! That is some dedication, but it looks like it was all worth it 🙂 we used to drink lots of G&Ts, but now we’ve switched more to craft beer. However, we still have tonic water in the fridge (which I occasionally drink by itself) and a bottle of gin. Have you tried Hendrick’s? It is my favorite gin! Now that I am back to LA, I can actually get coke made with ‘real’ sugar (made in Mexico of course) from Costco, so that is my treat after a long run 😉
Yes. I have tried Hendricks and enjoy it a whole lot. It is very floral and works great in a variety of cocktails. My steady favorite, however, is (and has been for many years) Tanqueray.
How interesting, I’ve made ginger ale before but hadn’t thought about tonic water. Very exotic ingredient list too. Will put this on my list for next summer.
Why wait until next summer? I’m down to 2 cups of syrup and will be making my next batch in a week or so. This really is good stuff.
of course, you are right. I just need to source your unique and unusual ingredients!
Only the cinchona bark is unusual and it’s available from Amazon in bulk. Lemongrass used to be considered unusual but any Asian food store and many supermarkets carry it. You have no excuse and, if you’re a lover of the G&T, it’s a moral imperative to make your own tonic. 😉
I couldn’t resist posting this for my daughter on my Facebook page, where I reblog interesting stuff on food. Thanks for posting – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cook-Up-A-Story/159909699697
Thanks, Sharon. This is fun and very tasty.
Wow, this sounds fascinating! I love tonic water (I am a huge G&T addict, particularly if it’s made with Hendricks) so I’d love to try this recipe. I need to get on to purchasing that cinchona bark… I’m imagining the most delicious G&T I’ve ever tasted! Quite excited is an understatement. Great post, thanks Richard!
Thanks. I love Hendricks but my ready favorite is still Tanqueray. Give the homemade tonic a try. You will love it, I guarantee. 🙂
Help!! Firstly if you’ve received this multiple times I apologise, it doesn’t look to be sticking at my end! I have all the ingredients in a pot ready to go to make your tonic water recipe. You say in your step by step method to add sugar, but there is no sugar mentioned, other than for the syrup. I’ll put the pot in the fridge and await your reply. Thanks
Sandra, I’m so sorry. I goofed on the ingredient list. I actually put 1/3 cup sugar in the original mix. I have no idea or explanation as to why I added the sugar because it makes absolutely no difference. The 3-1/2 cups rich simple syrup sweetens the quinine syrup more than enough.
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly Richard. I dug around a bit on the internet and found few comments about not adding sugar until after you’d strained the brew so I decided to take that option. It’s cooling as I speak!
Let me know what you think when you get it finished. I think you will absolutely love it. It is without a doubt the very best tonic water I have ever tasted.
My tonic syrup is ready! Thanks you Richard, we’re going to share this with some very happy G&T drinkers. Too early in the day to make G&T, but I just mixed a small glass to try. WOW!! It’s 10 minutes since I tasted it and I still have its beautiful lively taste on my palate! I’m going to mess with the spice when I make the next batch though, I don’t think they contributed much to my finished product. Cheers🍸
Hi, Sandra. We’re so glad to hear you liked the tonic syrup. It really is unbelievable. Let me know what you do with the spice combination and how it turns out. 🙂 I have been meaning to make another batch but things are getting in the way. 😦
I fixed the post and deleted the photo and instruction. I really have no idea why I added the sugar. I’m blaming it on aging not so gracefully. 😮
Haha, you’ve no idea how many times and went back and checked the ingredient list also blaming my “old timer’s” disease! Not going quietly either…..