Make Your Own: Tonic Water

tonic sideI have been meaning to make a post about this for over a year.   If any liquor could be said to be my totem spirit it is Gin and of all cocktails the Gin and Tonic is the perfect expression of the botanical basis of both Gin and tonic water.

You can read more about the history of Tonic in my previous post on the subject but for now just a little bit of history.

Tonic water is made with carbonated water and flavored with a alkaloid chemical called quinine.  Quinine is derived from the bark of a tree which grows in the Andes mountains of South America.  The tree is called alternately the Cinchona or the Quina.  Most tonic water is made either with the bark itself or with Quinine extract.

Because the difference between a medical dose and a recreational amount is significant most tonic waters currently on the market are a pale shadow of the potency of tonics past.  Most brands are watery using a synthetic quinine at the absolute minimum amount.

The lack of good tonic waters has been largely cured in recent years with the addition of several new premium tonic brands like Fever Tree and Q tonic.  There have also been attempts to make flavorful tonic syrups available to retail customers, most recently via kickstarter.  While I will still continue to make my own Bradley’s is an excellent product that needs to be more widely carried.

While these attempts are noble they all suffer from the need to create a product that will appeal to the greatest number of consumers.  This generally means that the commercial versions lack any other flavors again making for bland if somewhat more potent tonics.

Using Jeffrey Morganthaler’s Recipe as a base I went about creating my own tonic syrup for use as Christmas presents for friends.  I reduced the quantity of cinchona drastically due to some concerns about quinine toxicity.  It shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re taking quinine medicinally or work with it daily.

The Specs

4 cups water
6-8 oz chopped lemongrass (roughly one large stalk)
2 Tbsp powdered cinchona bark
1 Tbsp fresh lavender
zest and juice of 1 orange
zest and juice of 1 lemon (meyer)
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tsp whole allspice berries
¼ cup citric acid
¼ tsp Kosher salt

Combine ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and strain thoroughly.  Start with a metal strainer to catch the big stuff then move to cheese cloth and coffee filters.  Powdered bark is tough to get out of suspension and you don’t want to leave much of it behind so you may want to filter 2-3 times with a coffee filter until you stop getting larger particles.

Once the infusion is clear enough you’ll want to measure what you have left and then return it to the saucepan.  Over a medium heat add about 3/4 to 1 cup of rich (2x) simple syrup for each cup of liquid.  Stir until combined and then place in a sterile bottle with an air tight cap.

Ingredient notes

A number of these things proved more than passingly difficult to track down and you’re unlikely to find all of them in one stop.

For starters I checked every herb shop and self-styled apothecary in town and was finally able to locate Stone Cottage.  They had both powdered cinchona and bark chips at fairly reasonable prices and sold them in bulk allowing me to pick up as little or as much as I needed.  It is possible to find cinchona on amazon, the best value I found was a half pound bag for about $13 Here.  But obviously that is quite a bit of powder and you have no idea in advance what it looks like.

It is also possible to buy the herbs and spices as a kit: Tonic Water Kit, Oaktown Spice Shop

Fresh lemongrass can be had at most supermarkets in little plastic packages, but not all of them.  I had to hit 2-3 before I found some in stock.

Citric acid is often sold in bulk at the grocery store, the same with lavender.  I had better results with new seasons or whole foods but Safeway had a pretty good selection too.

Lastly, the lemons.  Regular lemons are fine, but if you can find some meyer lemons they have a slightly sweeter, waxy and aromatic zest on them and are great for many things.

Quantity

Before you begin, please note that this will produce something like 8 cups of final syrup (and nearly 4 times that in actual soda).  If you need a half gallon of tonic mix this is great.  If not then you might wind up with a lot of spoiled syrup long before you can use it.  It is quite easy to halve this recipe, quartering it may take a bit more effort as you’re not getting nearly as much fruit zest and juice in the infusion.  More testing is needed.

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