Homemade Tonic

I just made my third batch of tonic water from Mark Sexauer's Recipe:

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup cinchona bark
  • 1/4 cup citric acid
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried bitter orange peel
  • 10 dashes bitters
  • 1 hand crushed juniper berry (I used two)

The flavor is excellent, but the process is terrible. Specifically, filtering the cinchona bark from the mixture after extracting the quinine (actually totaquine) from it is nearly impossible. It's so finely ground it clogs any filter, be it paper or the mesh on a french press coffeemaker, almost immediately. I've tried letting it settle and pouring off the liquid, forcing the liquid through with back pressure, and letting it drip all night -- none work well. A friend using the same recipe build a homemade vacuum extractor, but I've not yet gone that far.

This time I used multiple coffee filters and gravity, changing out the filter after each few tablespoons of water flowed through and the filter was plugged. I lost about half the liquid volume in the form of discarded, soggy filters. On previous batches I didn't take the liquid loss into account when adding sugar, yielding tonic water that was too sweet -- my primary complaint with store bought tonic --, but this time I halved the sugar as well and got a nice tart result. The fresh citrus and two juniper berries I use make it a perfect match for a nice gin. I'm able to carbonate the mixture with my own carbonation rig.

For the next batch I'm going to see if I can buy some quinine from the gray market online pharmacies. A single 300mg tablet, used to fight malaria or alleviate leg cramps, will make three strong liters and I'll be able to skip the filtering process entirely. The other benefit to using quinine instead of totaquine is aesthetic. The cinchona bark leaves my homemade tonic syrup brown and the water an unpleasant yellow color as you can see below.

Tonic Water and Syrup