When I’m not drinking beer, my absolute favorite mixed drink (especially in hot weather) is a gin and tonic. I love a good gin, and it also turns out that I’m picky on tonic water. The store brand tonic is cheap but pretty dreadful, being about 90% corn syrup and overly bitter without any complexity. The Fever Tree brand (and others like it) is good, but it’s also pretty expensive. In both cases, I end up with empty bottles that have to be recycled (if they can be recycled), and I’m spending money I shouldn’t have to spend! So, how do I balance my desires to A) save money; and B) get good tonic water?
A few years back, we invested in a Soda Stream–I normally don’t care for single-purpose, ultra-speciality kitchen gadgets, but this has been totally worth the initial cost and the occasional CO2 refill swap (we end up doing this about once a year–I keep two spare bottles on hand at any time)). Thanks to Soda Stream, we don’t have to buy sparkling water from the grocery store (with its accompanying plastic garbage and the inevitable waste of the water that doesn’t get used before it goes flat), and we can mix just about anything we like with syrup. Overall, this gadget cuts down on our waste, and lets us save a good chunk of money by crafting some of our favorite fizzy drinks at home!
It’s turns out that it’s fairly easy to make a really nice craft tonic water. The key is to start with a tasty syrup…and just add (sparkling) water! I got a copy of The New Cocktail Hour for Christmas a few years back, and used its tonic syrup recipe as a starting point. After a few iterations, I figured out a version that suited my tastes. The main changes were less sugar and a touch more cinchona bark. I had to do a little hunting for specialty ingredients (I ended up ordering the cinchona bark and gentian root online), but once I had those on-hand it’s a pretty inexpensive and easy recipe. A pound of cinchona bark cost ~$25, and it was about the same for the gentian root. These will last me forever! We can just walk out our door and pick the citrus and the lemon grass (thanks, SoCal!), so there’s little cost there. Averaging out after the initial material purchase, it probably costs well under $5 per batch, and I get around a dozen servings of tonic water (<50 cents per serving). Contrast this with ~$1.50 per bottle for the fancy stuff, and it’s a pretty big savings.
Note the an overdose of quinine can lead to ill effects…so, make this recipe at your own risk. I do not recommend consuming the tiny bits of bark that might make it into the syrup, nor do I recommend using powdered bark.
Andy’s Homemade Tonic Syrup
- Peel from a whole lemon, zested or peeled w/vegetable peeler
- Peel from a whole lime, zested or peeled w/vegetable peeler
- Peel from a whole orange, zested or peeled w/vegetable peeler
- 2 tsp. cinchona bark (coarse cut, not powdered)
- 1 tsp. gentian root
- 1/2 tsp. whole allspice berries
- 2.5 tsp. citric acid powder (or 2/3 cup lemon juice)
- 2/3 cup lemongrass stalk (fresh, not dried), chopped
- 1/8 tsp. sea salt
- 2 cups water (or 1-1/3 cup water if using lemon juice)
- 1/2 cup demerera sugar (can also use white sugar)
- Combine all ingredients except sugar in a sauce pan, and bring to a low boil.
- Turn down the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Strain the mixture through a mesh strainer or equivalent device, and then transfer into a Mason jar. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve, and store in the fridge.
- When ready to serve, mix with sparkling water to taste. I usually use just under a shot glass (1.5 oz), with ~6 oz. sparkling water.
- As long as you keep the syrup refrigerated, it will last around a month (in my experience), and potentially even longer. (as a fair warning, the conservative thing would be to consume it all in a week, but that’s up to you!) You can freeze the syrup, too; it’s never as good as it is fresh, but it’s still way better than the store-bought alternatives!
- Recipe note: It turns out OK if you leave out one of the types of citrus (e.g., if you don’t have limes in the house), but it’s really better with more different citrus notes. I find the peels rather than zest are more manageable, especially for the lemons and oranges. Also, straight-up citric acid powder creates a crisper-tasting result than using lemon juice, but either way is okay.