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A DIY Tonic Water Session

A couple weeks ago Ira Koplowitz from Bittercube bitters came to San Francisco to do a Gin and Tonic event with Bombay Sapphire East. Given my recent in-depth research into the cocktail and its history, I joined up with them at restaurant Locanda for a hands-on demo.


The project was pretty simple, but fun. Koplowitz brought in bottles of flavor extracts with which to add to simple syrup to make a tonic water syrup. The participating bartenders would each create a flavored tonic water recipe from the variety of extracts, then Bombay Sapphire East would pay for it to be scaled up to bottle size for them to later serve at the bar in a Gin and Tonic (with their gin, of course).

With a bitter base of quinine and lemongrass extract (Koplowitz  says East was designed with lemongrass specifically because it is in so many tonic waters) in the syrup, we then played with the choice of extracts:

  • IMG_7369Lemongrass: Clean and lemony, Froot Loops cereal.
  • Sassafrass - A Saffron-free version of sassafrass that is. It has a wintergreen flavor (it's in root beer) and can be used as a flavor binder.
  • Fennel - Tastes green and herby but fades into anise/black licorice
  • Yuzu - Super high citrus notes
  • Bergamont - Used both in Earl Grey tea and as a binder in perfumes. It was a little bitter and perfumy, and reminded me of the Eau d'Orange Verte shampoo made by Hermes.
  • Ginger - Rooty/earthy then sharp heat
  • Elderflower - Much more berry flavored (Pop Rocks) then we think of, but it finally justifies the one time I misidentified St. Germain in a blind tasting as raspberry liqueur. 
  • Jasmine - Floral but soapy
  • Cassia bark (cinnamon flavor) - Red Hots or Atomic Fireballs
  • Eucalyptus - Methol/Vapo-rub
  • Peppermint - Pine/juniper with lemon element, like York Peppermint Patty

I made my own tonic syrup in the session. My recipe ended up being:

  • 45 drops of quinine/lemongrass extract
  • 24 drops citric acid
  • 8 drops yuzu
  • 8 drops ginger
  • 8 drops fennel

It was delicious, a focus on the anise fennel with a little heat and brightness behind it. 

A lot of the advantage of this method is that our base of quinine was purified quinine extract (probably quinine sulfate), which is clear and not brown and barky like when you try to make your own from bark chips/powder. When you have all that bark in the drink, it seems to work better with other deep, winter flavors like clove and allspice rather than bright minty fresh extracts like we had here.

I'm hoping Bittercube releases just the quinine sulfate extract as a stand-alone product so that we can all try this process at home. 



Get Camper's Book: Tonic Water AKA G&T WTF.