I know it looks a little murky, but trust me. It’s absolutely delicious. Herbal, earthy, bitter, sour and sweet all at the same time, this tonic has it all. It’s infinitely better than overly sweet, one note tonic you can buy from any grocery store or get in any bar. It’s even better than any of those new premium tonic water’s that have hit the market recently. Cheaper too. All you have to do is is make your own tonic water.
There are a bunch of ways of doing homemade tonic floating around out there, but all of them have a few basic characteristics. First, they all include cinchona powder, which is the bark of a South American tree. Second, they include citric acid. Both are necessary. The cinchona because it gives tonic it’s characteristic taste (and anti-malarial properties) and the citric acid because you need some serious sourness to balance the bitter of the quinine. Trust me on this. The first time I tried to make tonic I figured I could just up the lemon and lime juice and it would come out ok. It didn’t.
My general recipe is the same as Jeffery Morgenthaler’s. It works great and I’ve never tried anything by Morgenthaler that hasn’t come out fantastic.
Here’s the process.
The basic ingredients for tonic syrup are cinchona bark, citric acid, water, citrus, lemongrass and spices. I used the zest and juice of a lemon, a lime and 2 oranges and coriander. Coriander because I like coriander forward gins and wanted to play nicely with stuff like Hendrick’s.
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 cup cinchona bark
- 1/4 cup citric acid
- zest and juice of a lemon
- zest and juice of a lime
- zest and juice of 2 oranges
- 1 cup chopped lemongrass
- 2 teaspoons coriander
- pinch of salt
Definitely very similar to Morgenthaler’s basic recipe. In other batch’s of tonic I’ve experimented with allspice, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, all to good effect. If you want a spicier tonic definitely go for more spices. One teaspoon is pretty muted, two brings it out a bit more, but if I wanted a tonic to play nicely with something more neutral like vodka or that could stand up to rye in cocktail’s I’d really up the spice level.
The next step is to bring all of the ingredients to a boil and let it simmer along for 20-30 mins. Yes it looks disgusting and the cinchona never really dissolves but trust me, it’s infusing.
After you’ve simmered your concoction and let it cool down a bit it’s time to strain it. This is where it can get tricky. Or, if you don’t do it right, you can descend into madness. Don’t let that scare you off. First, make sure you haven’t read ahead in the recipe and added your sweetener already. No matter what you’re using, simple syrup, agave nectar, or something else, don’t add it yet. It will make it impossible to strain.
I’ve made four batches of tonic now and this is always the worst step. I’ve settled on triple straining my mix. The first time I go through a fine mesh strainer, just to get the solids out. The second time I put it in my French Press and filter it that way. After that I go through either cheesecloth or damp paper towels several times. This will take a while. And no, you can’t just walk away and leave it. It will clog and you’ll come back in an hour to a half strained, thoroughly clogged piece of cheesecloth. You have to sit there and baby it. Swirl it, agitate it with a spatula, whatever. Just keep it moving.
Finally, once you’ve got it reasonably clear, or at least not gritty anymore, it’s time for the final step. You want to mix your tonic base and your sweetener at a 1-.75 ratio. I chose to use simple syrup rather than agave for this batch. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but I’ve found that using simple syrup leads to a cleaner taste in the end and lets your other ingredients shine through a little more. If you want to add a slightly more floral note use agave.
And there you are. Now it’s time for the best part.
Gin, tonic, club soda. That’s what you need. I used Apolinaris here because I had it on hand and was too lazy make up a batch of soda in my siphon. Kind of a waste of good water, as none of it’s mineral content shines through in the final application, but it’s still tasty. I make a gin an tonic like this.
- 2 oz Gin
- 1 1/2 oz tonic syrup
- 4 oz club soda
So how much will all this run you? I ended up with a liter of tonic syrup. That will make enough for 24 or so cocktails. Here’s what it cost.
- 1/4 package of cinchona – $1.50
- 1/2 container of citric acid – $3
- Lemon, lime and 2 oranges – $2.50
- Lemongrass – $2
- 1 teaspoon coriander and 1 1/2 cups sugar – 80 cents
So for a grand total of a little less than $10 I made enough tonic for 24 gin and tonics. For that many gin and tonic’s you’d need 5 bottle of Schweppes, which will run you a bit more than $10. And that’s if I use the baseline Schweppes. If you went for Q Tonic or some other premium tonic, you’d be out at least $50 to make that many drinks.
Do yourself a favor. If you like gin and tonics give this a try. It really isn’t that hard, it’s cheaper and it’s better. What do you have to lose?