Gin is the drink of the moment with new distilleries popping up across the country and it was inevitable that a plethora of premium tonic waters would follow. Saccharine laden tonic water, served warm and slightly flat is so last century.
Given the appearance of these new tonic waters, it might therefore seem odd to make your own tonic water. But, like everything you make yourself, you’re in control and you choose what to put in and what to leave out. If commercial tonic water is too sweet for you, then reduce the sweetness; add flavour with spices like cardamom or coriander or use herbs such as rosemary and thyme; if you fancy something citrussy then add plenty of lemon, orange or grapefruit peel. You could mix the spices and flavourings to complement your gin or leave them out altogether to make a plain tonic water that lets the flavour of your gin shine through.
Home Made v Commercial Tonic Water
There are two main differences between home-made tonic water and that which you buy – apart from the taste. Firstly, home-made tonic water is concentrated so before drinking should be diluted at about one part tonic to four parts water. The obvious choice is to dilute with sparkling or soda water, but try it with still water too. Whenever I have a conventional gin and tonic, I’m miserly with commercial tonic water but add a splash of water because I think it emphasises the taste of the gin. Secondly, the cinchona bark gives the tonic water an amber hue, though depending on what flavourings you add, this might not be apparent as you can see from the vibrant colour of the raspberry tonic water above.
Finding the right recipe
When Elizabeth first told me it was possible to make tonic water at home (with a reminder of the possible toxicity of cinchona) she suggested using the recipe from Jennifer McLagan’s book Bitter. It was simple to make – a bit of zesting, juicing and simmering before straining and mixing with a simple sugar syrup. It was OK, though I needed almost three times the amount of sugar syrup that the recipe suggested and it tasted a bit stewed. At the time, I was going through a bit of a Cold Brew Coffee phase and so it wasn’t a huge jump to wonder if I could make tonic water without heating. After all, we don’t heat the fruit to make fruit gins. A little internet searching proved that others were using a cold infusion so I halved the original recipe, tweaked the flavourings and had another go. Much better.
I tweaked some more as the roses flowered and then the raspberries and blackcurrants ripened so that I had a seasonal range. If you want to have a go at making your own tonic water, the recipe for Homemade Raspberry Tonic Water is at the bottom of the page. It’s no more than putting a few flavourings into a jar with some water, giving it a good shake and leaving it in the fridge for three days before straining and mixing with a simple sugar syrup. The hardest part is finding cinchona bark, but there are plenty of online suppliers.
Needless to say, Raspberry Tonic Water paired with Raspberry Gin is a deliciously fruity combination. Adding it to normal gin will turn it a beautiful colour and give it a raspberry edge. I also think that the slightly bitter note of raspberry tonic water diluted with still or sparkling water (and no gin!) makes a refreshing change from oversweet soft drinks.
Raspberry Tonic Water
Zest only of ½ orange, 2 lemons and 1 lime (use a vegetable peeler)
20g citric acid
10g cinchona bark
¼ teasp Maldon sea salt
1 teasp lightly crushed coriander seeds
50g lightly crushed raspberries
Put everything into a jar. Shake well and leave in the fridge for 3 days, shaking every day.
Make a simple syrup by adding 250g sugar to 250g of water in a saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring to the boil and remove from the heat. Leave to cool.
Tke the jar from the fridge, strain the contents through your finest sieve (I use a coffee sieve) and throw away the bits.
Now strain the liquid through a coffee filter paper, which is a bit of a pain but it will give you a bright and clear liquid. I find it easiest to do this in two batches, replacing the filter paper after the first batch. Using cinchona bark and not powder makes this easier.
Mix with the cold syrup and bottle.
Keep in the fridge and dilute 1 part tonic syrup to 4 parts still or sparkling water. Don’t shake as you don’t want to drink the sediment.