A few weeks ago I experimented with making my own tonic water. Originally a true tonic meant to ward off malaria through the intake of quinine, tonic water was a medicinally bitter product that went down well with gin. Modern tonics are weak and sweet in comparison.
The hardest part of making homemade tonic water was finding the ingredients. They’re readily available online, but harder to find locally. Citric acid is supposedly found in well-stocked stores, but I had no luck finding it. Instead I repeated conversations like this:
“Excuse me, do you carry citric acid?”
“I don’t think so. What do you need it for?”
“I’m making tonic water.”
“Oh. You know we do sell tonic water.”
“Yes, but it’s not the same.”
So at least a few store clerks think I’m completely insane. In any case, I was finally able to find the acid and cinchona bark, the source of quinine, at La Cuisine in Alexandria. I then made a batch of homemade tonic water using Kevin Ludwig’s recipe from Imbibe, which calls for citric acid, the bark, lemongrass, sugar, and lime. It’s a far superior product — snappy, bitter, and with a unique flavor of its own. Commercial tonics, in contrast, are little more than a vehicle for diluting gin.
Friends have been asking me to post the recipe. Since this was my first attempt and I haven’t yet added anything of my own to it, I’ve been reluctant to do so. Luckily, I don’t have to: Jeffrey Morgenthaler posted his own variation this morning. It looks like a tasty, approachable recipe with more fruit and spice, one that might appeal to a wider audience unaccustomed to a strong quinine taste. If you’re curious to try an authentic tonic water, Jeff’s version could be a great place to start.