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.

Derailer Cocktail

derailerCredit for this drink goes directly to Podnah’s Pit where it was created and where I and the Hop Boxer found it.

First of the basic recipe.

1.5 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 oz Creme de Cassis
0.5 oz Lime Juice
4 oz Ginger Beer

As presented you want to put your lime, jameson and cassis in your shaker, strain into your highball or collins glass and then top with ginger beer.

Not terribly complicated, it follows the standard 2/1/1 format for most “classic” cocktails.

This drink comes into the category of Buck Cocktails or Mules which are really just spirit + citrus + ginger beer.

I’ve gone over some Options for what to use as your ginger beer selection.

There are any number of fine bottled options, find one that has the amount of bite you enjoy and stick with it.  I’m fine with Cock n’ Bull but if Bundaberg is around in the store I’ll snag a 4 pack of that as it’s a nice midpoint between Cock n’ Bull and Reeds.

If you want to use Ginger Syrup I have found that a dilution of about 4 to 1 is pretty standard so 1 oz syrup to 4 oz club soda.  You can play with that if you want but it comes out pretty strong otherwise and you don’t really want the sugar in the syrup to overshadow the cassis.

Some notes about the drink itself:

I don’t personally think that the brand of whiskey involved makes much of a difference here but I think type plays a role.  Jameson is an Irish Whiskey which is going to be very different in flavor profile than say a Bourbon or a Tennessee Whiskey like Jack Daniels.  Scotch is wasted in this drink so don’t bother with anything there.  I think part of the draw on Jameson is that it lacks many of the smokey characteristics of some other whiskey and is smooth enough to work well in the drink.   Additionally it’s one of the few Irish whiskey’s you’re likely to find in a smaller bar.

For those not familiar with Creme de Cassis it is a liqueur flavored with black currants.  This is a fruit not many people have any experience with as they haven’t been actively cultivated in the US for several decades.  Their commercial cultivation was banned in the 1900’s and that ban has only slowly been lifted by a few US states, Oregon among them.  So the liqueur is a bit more common in Europe and is generally imported.  Locally Clear Creek makes a very lovely Cassis Liqueur which runs about $22.50 for a 375ml.  I’ve seen them in a number of liquor stores around the area so they aren’t hard to find they’re just not always in the same spot as the Creme de Cassis which you can generally find in fifths for $9-13.  The major differences in the two are usually sweetness and tartness.  The price on clear creek’s Cassis is higher but it is worth it for having a non-artificial taste and a very natural tartness.

One last deviation from the norm, I concocted a version I call the light-railer which swaps the Jameson and Cassis for Eastside Distilling Marionberry Whiskey.  It loses a bit of the tartness but the flavor profile of Eastside’s whiskey stands up a bit better in the cocktail and you get a much clearer whiskey flavor without a lot of extra oak barrel getting into the drink.

Make Your Own: Sweet and Sour Mix

Sourmix1

Part two in my lovely series of how to replace the horrible mixers that you buy at the store.  This one is a big one, sour mix is probably one of the The go to party mixes of anything out there.  It’s a component in the amaretto sour, the whiskey sour, dozens of tiki drinks and even cheaper end margarita mixes.  Holding some of the most baseline flavors in the cocktail world this is something that you should have on hand for any party and making even a big batch is pretty easy.

A lot of the difficulty in this recipe comes from the fact that there are few ingredients.  This may seem counter-intuitive but if you think about it, the fewer things you put into it, the greater weight each has in the outcome.

Much like my adventures in making limeade taste is everything.

Sour Mix:
2 oz Lime Juice
2 oz Lemon Juice
2.5 oz Simple Syrup
Mix all ingredients in a squeeze bottle, shake well, refrigerate.
Like the simple syrup itself this will keep for about 2-3 weeks unless you add vodka to it.

This is my version, and I will stress from the get go that it is not the perfect ratio to please every taste.  This happens to be a very simple outgrowth of the ingredients at their basest.

 

 

 

 

Sourmix2

 

Using fresh limes and lemons is essential.  If you let them sit too long the pith starts to make the juice bitter and all kinds of things can happen to the outcome.  Your average sized store lime/lemon will press for ~2 ounces of juice.  Larger or smaller than normal you can kinda guess but if you’re shooting on drinking for two people, the juice of one of each will suffice for this project.

The 2.5 ounces of simple syrup come from my previous MYO posting where I used 1/3 of a cup of sugar to get the syrup.  This turns out to be perfectly balanced based on the amount of juice you get from one each of the fruit.

The result is a somewhat neutrally acid, sweet mixture that works well in most cocktails.

To get the right kind of taste for your palate, I would recommend the above amounts of base ingredients. Instead of mixing them all together in a squeeze bottle as I’ve done, put varying amounts into a shot glass to taste.  Half ounce increments in either direction will let you give the mixture a bit of play until you find the spot that tickles your tongue.  I would start by scaling back on the simple syrup and see how you like it at an even 2 parts each then raise or lower the lime and lemon until it’s right.