Make Your Own Tonic Water

When I (Shanna – the one who’s drunk for fun on YouTube) tell people about my latest culinary projects, I get the most questions about 1.) my pickled strawberries (not good for cocktails, unless it’s like a shrub) and 2.) homemade tonic water (only good for cocktails).

My quest for good tonic water started with an Advance Readers Copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s forthcoming book The Signature of All Things. I like to describe it as the Philadelphian Gone With the Wind, but with botany instead of “the gentry,” moss instead male suitors. It’s great. The father gets rich on early botanical pharmaceuticals, including powdered cinchona bark, which contains quinine, the key ingredient in tonic water. The stuff you get at the grocery store also has preservatives and corn syrup. If, like me, you’re not a fan then making your own traditional tonic water may be the way to go.

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be in the Mission District of San Francisco where I could get some cinchona bark, because the Strip District of Pittsburgh unfortunately isn’t that kind of niche. The Duc Loi Supermarket has everything you could possibly want, including whiskey and Bahn Mi sandwiches… and salvia. Don’t get the salvia. Get cinchona bark. Otherwise known as the fever tree, Jesuit’s bark or Peruvian bark, the quinine in cinchona is known for curing malaria and muscle cramps. It’s also what gives your G+T that nice bitter flavor.

To start, steep the bark in hot water for 30 or more minutes (depending on potency – just keep tasting it), almost like making cinchona tea. Use fillable tea bags or tie up some coffee filters so you don’t get any wood-bits in your tonic. It’ll turn a nice red color and start to take on some bitterness. You can then make a syrup by adding a cup (or more, or less) to every 2 cups of water. Any more is too sweet in my opinion, but it’s up to you. Try adding botanicals while steeping, like lavender or citrus.

Now you have a Tonic Syrup, to which you can add your own soda water. One part syrup for 4 parts soda seems to work well. Bottle, refrigerate, and throw a tonic party.

Strangely, it goes well with bourbon. Try it out!