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!!!