There’s only one cocktail I make deliberately light on the booze, and that’s the Gin and Tonic. Is there a more perfect summertime drink? Refreshing, charmingly straightforward and with the added bonus of warding off both malaria and scurvy – the G&T is a classic for a reason.
A Gin and Tonic has four ingredients: gin, tonic water, lime and ice. That’s it. This is not a drink to get cute with. Attempts to do so are…unsettling.
But, because the drink is so simple, each ingredient has to carry its weight. The lime must be fresh and juicy, the ice clean and untainted by freezer flavors. The gin must be good gin – I’m a fan of Hendrick’s. And the tonic water must carry it’s medicinal heritage proudly without overwhelming the other players.
The “tonic” aspect of tonic water comes from it’s main flavoring – the bitter bark of the cinchona tree, which has been used as an herbal medicinal since before 1600. “The bark is medicinally active, containing a variety of alkaloids including the antimalarial compound quinine and the antiarrhythmic quinidine. Although the use of the bark has been largely superseded by more effective modern medicines, cinchona is the only economically practical source of quinine, a drug that is still recommended for the treatment of Malaria.” [Wikipedia]
It was colonizing British army officers who, overwhelmed with the heat and malaria-carrying mosquitoes of India, found a way to make a bitter infusion of quinine water go down a little easier. Generous additions of sugar, lime and gin turned a mouth-puckering anti-malarial treatment into the refreshing cocktail we now know and love.
If the British East India Company could make a G&T from scratch, we certainly can. We’ll need a tonic concentrate, heavily flavored with cinchona bark, citrus and gin-complementing spices.
You will need: limes, powdered cinchona bark (I use this), granulated citric acid, black peppercorns, coriander, fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom pods, cloves and sugar.
Herbal Advantage, the seller from whom I buy my powdered cinchona bark, has a package special of both cinchona bark and citric acid sold together, so if you don’t stock citric acid in your home already, the combo pack might be a good option.
The first thing we’ll do is zest the limes and cut them in half, so the tonic concentrate includes lots of lime zest flavor and the juice of the limes.
After a simple simmer-and-steep of the limes, cinchona bark, citric acid and spices, the tonic concentrate is ready to strain. Get the big chunky stuff out, then strain through a double layer of lint-free cloth. The goal is to keep that powdery cinchona powder out of the final concentrate.
When all the liquid has steeped though the cloth, the fine particulate will be left behind.
Now we add sugar to taste (I use a cup of sugar for the whole batch, but if you like your G&T sweeter, you’ll want to add more) and enough water to bring the total volume of tonic concentrate to 4 cups.
Once the tonic concentrate is chilled, it’s ready to use. I like 1 tablespoon of tonic concentrate to about 6 oz. of soda water. That means this amount of concentrate makes about 3 gallons of finished tonic water. That’s a lot of Gin and Tonic.
Your homemade tonic water, plus a jigger of gin and a good squeeze of lime, results in a refreshing, not-too-sweet summer drink that you can sip slowly in the sunshine. What could be better?
Printable DIY Tonic Recipe
Easy DIY Tonic Water
Yield 64 , 6-oz servings
- 5 limes
- 1/4 cup powdered cinchona bark
- 1/4 cup granulated citric acid
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 1/2 a nutmeg
- 4 cardamom pods
- 1 clove
- 4 cups water, plus more as needed.
- 1 cup sugar, plus more if desired.
- Zest limes with a vegetable peeler, then slice the peeled limes in half.
- Add the lime zest and fruit, cinchona bark, citric acid and all spices to a medium saucepan. Add 4 cups water to the saucepan, stir, and bring everything to a simmer over medium heat.
- When the mixture comes to a simmer, remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let the tonic mixture steep 25 minutes.
- Strain the tonic concentrate through a strainer to remove large spices and lime rind. Press down on the limes and spices to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Line a fine mesh sieve with a double layer of very fine cheesecloth or lint-free cloth. Strain the tonic concentrate through the fabric to remove the fine particulate of the cinchona bark. It can take some time for the tonic concentrate to fully filter through the fabric. When the tonic concentrate is fully filtered, it will have a warm orange color but should not be gritty or opaque.
- Measure out the tonic concentrate. You should have about 3 1/2 cups concentrate.
- Add 1 cup sugar to the concentrate and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Add additional water to the concentrate as needed to bring the total volume of tonic concentrate to 4 cups.
- Taste the concentrate. Add 1 tablespoon tonic concentrate to 6 oz (3/4 cup) club soda to assess the flavor of the tonic concentrate. If a sweeter tonic water is desired, add additional sugar to the concentrate until the desired flavor is achieved. Stir to fully dissolve the sugar.
- Add 1 tablespoon tonic concentrate to 6 oz club soda or sparkling water to make tonic water. Additional tonic concentrate can be added as desired for a more intense flavor.
This looks great–by far the easiest to follow recipe I have seen! Do you know how long the concentrate keeps for in the fridge?
Yeah we tried all kinds of complicated recipes and they all ended up underwhelming us. The key is to patiently filter and to add the sugar after filtering. That made all the difference in getting the fine particulate out. We’ve been working on a DIY tonic for about a year now. This one I developed to only include spices and things I normally have around (except the cinchona bark – that’s a specialty thing for anyone) and that seemed like natural flavor pairings for gin. It’s the most straightforward tonic I’ve made, and the only one I’ve thought was good enough to share. I’m quite happy with it. 🙂
With all the citric acid my best guess is this will keep at least several months. Its very acidic. You could always halve the batch and/or freeze the concentrate in more manageable portions if you wanted, too. It should freeze and thaw totally fine.
I have tried just about every tonic water recipe on the internet and hated all of them until I found yours. This is fantastic, and I was able to successfully make a “diet” version by using a combination of powdered and liquid stevia. I have had my bark for years and had considered putting it in the compost pile. I’m sure glad I didn’t. This is especially good for people who, like me, have their own soda maker. I make tonic water always now. Bye, bye, Canada Dry.
Cottontail Farm says
I only made it halfway through that video… honestly it made me feel a weird combination of sad and confused. I had to look away. Gin and tonics are my favorite and I kinda thought I might cry watching that. Your cocktail looks amazing! Totally going to try making this.
After you’ve finished your G&T, please give us an update – WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THE ADORABLE BABY DUCKS??
Oooh, oooh, you totally missed the most awesome part. You have to go back and watch the last 20 or 30 seconds. Just….humor me. 😉
Ducks: holy crikey, they are huge now! Will update next week – thanks for the nudge! 🙂
Elizabeth F says
The hyperlink on “unsettling” at the start of Erica’s article. Just watched it, oh my!
Elizabeth F says
Oh yes. Hmmm.
Tom ~ Raise Your Garden says
I was thinking baby ducks too. Just got my worms in the mail, so I got a few pets around the house too now that I do worm composting. They’re kind of like my new kids.
You are my hero. Potentially 3 gallons of tonic on hand for the summer? Sign me up.
wow! i’m never going to get malaria! who knew? thanks for this – amazing… i had no idea. and i like the option of not having a sugared up version of tonic water. thanks!
I love tonic! I’ll even drink it without the booze (though I prefer rum & tonic myself). Never thought of making it from scratch. Can’t wait to try this.
I love gin and tonic so I am definitely making this ASAP! Thanks for all the great posts you write…I preordered the book yesterday and I can’t wait!! Hope you are having a happy monday!
Lazy Harp Seal says
Do you have any tips on making freezer-smell free ice? Beyond tossing the nasty stuff?
Homebrew Husband says
I’d suggest making sure you are drinking enough gin and tonics that the ice is cycling through fairly quickly! 🙂
Oooh, Gin & Tonic is my favorite cocktail and I’ve been wanting to try my hand at tonic water for a long time! I think I might try diluting and fermenting your recipe with water kefir grains to make it bubbly (so no need to add soda water!). Though I’m guessing the quinine might kill off the bacteria/yeast in the water kefir, too…worth a try, though.
I’m excited to try this recipe, but just as a cautionary note, consuming too much cinchona can cause some seriously unpleasant side effects, and while I’m not entirely certain of the math, I’m pretty sure this results in a higher percentage than the average store-bought tonic water. The upshot is that it’s not a good idea to cheat on the straining and try not to drink *too* many G&Ts at a time, so it has a chance to cycle out of your system 🙂
Just now, I read a post about making some tasty cordials from garden scraps and now I found this Gin and Tonic recipe of yours. Oh, so many things I want to drink. It’s summer, though. I guess it’s pretty all right. Great post!
Glad to see you testing tonic recipes – I’ve been experimenting myself for the last two years (but am limited by just how much tonic a sensible person can actually drink).
Two questions – have you ever tried cinchona bark pieces (rather than the powder) to make less particulates to filter out? and – what about adding the lime just after cooling (to make the final flavor taste less ‘cooked’)?
I finally got to make this today – picked up cinchona bark at Dandelion Botanical Company in Ballard – it is small chunks of bark and very easy to strain out. So now I’m up for experimenting with how else I can use it!
I have a girlfriend coming this weekend who loves, Loves, LOVES G&T’s and Vodka Tonics, and even loves tonic alone! So I will be making this, immediately! And I love your blog!
Now up on my soapbox: “use of the bark has been largely superseded by more effective modern medicines” this is a TYPICAL quote from Wikipedia. Wikipedia is VERY unfriendly to ALL alternative medicines and even some other alternative ideas: Just google “Rupert Sheldrak Wikipedia controversy” without the quotes and see what you see.
I am an alternative medicine practitioner (Licensed Acupuncturist, homeopath and herbalist) and I am here to tell you that Chinchona Bark aka China aka Quinine is a very effective medicine and as you point out, in constant use since at least 1600! (In the West, in China herbs much like the South American herb Chinchona have been in use for up to 10,000 years!)
There. Done. [climbing down from the soapbox now]
Valerie Castello says
Just made this! Absolutely wonderful!! It is far superior to any store bought tonic!!! My neighbors and I will be enjoying our G&Ts (and anything else made with tonic) until the next batch. 🙂
As a side note, I found a 1 T to 4 oz tonic to soda ration to be perfect! (I went with the recommended 1 C sugar, no more.)
Thanks for enhancing my G&T experiences from here on out!!