The origins of Tonic Water.
So you want to learn how to make tonic water at home? You’ve come to the right place. First, here’s a bit about the origins of tonic water.
It was once said that quinine – the main ingredient of tonic water – was as important to the colonial efforts as the Gatlin gun. Malaria, a deadly mosquito-borne disease, decimated British soldiers in India so something needed to be done. A global search for a remedy became the British Governments’ top priority.
The Spanish recalled how indigenous people of Peru ingested bark from the Cinchona tree to treat fevers. Cinchona bark contains quinine and luckily this drug proved incredibly effective for Malaria. As a matter of fact, it was so effective that the British prescribed daily doses of it to each serving soldier in India.
The impact of this was so great it lead to Winston Churchill claiming that “tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”
Soldiers were less enthused however.
The birth of gin and tonic
Tonic water with medicinal quantities of quinine is bitter to the point of being unpalatable. A teaspoon of sugar would not suffice, and something a little stronger was needed to help this medicine go down. Administering tonic remained unpleasant until the ingenious discovery of mixing it with gin. And just like that, a combination for the ages was born.
Tonic water and gin marry together perfectly. Especially artisan gins like the incredible Treganna Gin. It’s baffling that destiny waited so long to join such obvious soul mates. Like a hand in a well fitted glove, the bitter astringent flavours interweave and perfectly balance out the sweet botanical notes. And finally, a farewell zing of acidic citrus settles over the tongue like a punctuation mark.
How tonic water is made
These days commercial tonic water contains one fifth of the quinine that the British endured a century ago, and often include more exotic flavours. Below is a recipe for a simple tonic water syrup which should be mixed with plenty of carbonated water. You’ll notice that the tonic isn’t clear, don’t worry. Commercial outfits generally use quinine extract, useful when you want a clear liquid. To learn how to make tonic water at home, it’s best to use all natural ingredients.
WARNING – Quinine can be dangerous if consumed in large quantities.
- 1 lemon
- 1 lime
- 500ml of water
- 4 – 6grams teaspoons cut cinchona bark
- 5 grams of citric acid powder
- 1 stalk lemongrass, sliced (about 2/3 cup)
- 200 – 300 grams of sugar
- A few bottles of carbonated water
Zest lemon and lime and place in medium saucepan. Juice lemon and lime and add juice to saucepan, along with water, cinchona bark, citric acid powder, lemongrass, and sugar. Bring to a boil on high heat.
Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let mixture steep for 20 minutes.Strain mixture through two layers of cheesecloth placed in a fine-mesh sieve
- Strain again if there are still particles to be removed. This liquid is the tonic syrup.
- Place the tonic syrup in a sealable glass container and refrigerate for at least two hours before use.
To make tonic water, combine the syrup with carbonated water, mixing one part syrup to four parts water. Do not combine them in a large batch unless you intend to use all the tonic water at once. Instead, combine syrup and fresh carbonated water for each individual use.