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Homemade tonic: actually easy?

Ellaginandtonicbymattpowers (Photo of Ella's Gin and Tonic by Matt Powers of

Last week I was in Sacramento reporting on the local cocktail scene for Tasting Panel Magazine. We stumbled into Ella, a fine dining restaurant  where the signature cocktail is a gin and (homemade) tonic.

I've tried several versions of homemade tonic water and even made my own, and to be honest none of them were mind-blowing. Schweppe's Indian Tonic is better. But this one at Ella is terrific and fresh, and the secret is... not to make it into a syrup first.

Bartender Chris Dooley made the drink by adding ground cinchona bark powder - probably 1/8 teaspoon of it or less- to an empty glass, then adding the gin (209 Gin in their case), lemon and lime juice, cane sugar syrup, ice, and soda water.

Dooley said they found cinchona bark powder doesn't dissolve well into anything except the gin, which is why they put it in before the other ingredients. That said, you could still see particles of the bark powder at the bottom of the glass. Yet this drink didn't taste as barky as the syrup that I made, even though I ran it through coffee filters a couple of times. It was fresh and bitter and really good.

I haven't tried to replicate the drink at home yet, so please let me know if you've made it work (or not) this way. It would be hilarious to find out in that trying to get the tonic into syrup form people have been overthinking what could be simple homemade tonic water.


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Where does one acquire cinchona powder? this recipe sounds intriguing

Jamie Boudreau

This is exactly how we make it at my bar-a la minute and damn tasty.

Jamie Boudreau

This is exactly how we make it at my bar-a la minute and damn tasty.

Jamie Boudreau

This is exactly how we make it at my bar-a la minute and damn tasty.

erik adkins

does anyone know what the threshhold for quinine poisoning is? 1/8th of a teaspoon sounds like a bit, eapecially if it's the powdered stuff from the rainforest web site.

Camper English

Allan- many people buy the bark powder from

Erik- I researched this before, but I believe that the Rain Tree powder wasn't labeled in a way that you could measure whether you were at that dose. I think this is a worthwhile question and I'll try to look into it more and post it to the blog.


Most of the home tonic recipes I've seen are non-alcoholic. Here we are making a quick alcohol infusion with the cinchona and then adding fresh lemon and lime, two ingredients notorious for short life. Very nice.

rain-tree should be able to provide the amount of quinine per weight of their cinchona bark powder.


Camper, I tried this method and it works great!
2 oz. Old tom gin
1/8 tsp. Cinchona bark
1/2 oz. Lime juice
1/4 oz. Simple syrup
Fine strain all into a rocks glass with ice. Add 2 1/2 oz. Soda. I made up the recipe from Beaker & Flask as well as Morgenthaler's and both are a little to dirty and bitter for my tastes.
The sweetness of the Old Tom helps balance it out. I also tried Plymouth and Broker's but they seemed to still bring out that earthy flavor that is not all that appealing in a g&t. To each their own though. I think the mixing of cinchona and gin is the way to go sometimes us humans seem to overthunk when we should just K.I.S.S.

Camper English

Thanks Brant!


I just tried this last night and it turned out fanstastic after only the second try. I found it important to let the Cinchona powder (1/8 teaspoon) sit in the Gin (Beefeaters in my case) for a couple minutes, then strain it through a high grade coffee filter giving it a nice, bark-free golden brown color. Added the rest to taste and topped off with Pelegrino Sparkling Water...Perfect!

Ian McCarthy

I like it. Why not make it easier and eliminate the solids in you glass by infusing the cinchona with gin until you achieve the desired bitterness? Of course, you would be limited in your gin selection if it had to be pre-infused.

The thing I DON'T like about this method is that it neglects other tonic water flavors I appreciate so much. Lemongrass, allspice, coriander...should you infuse those in the gin as well? Adding your volatile fruit juices at the last minute? I see room to improve.

Camper English

Ian- this sounds like a great idea to try. It's hard to get all the quinine powder out but infusing it and running it through a coffee filter might work. You could add citrus peel to your infusion too. Then you can add soda, and whatever else at the time of pouring.

Ian McCarthy

FInally followed through, polished recipe coming soon.

The essential idea is that you add your lovely aromatics, (lemon grass, allspice, citrus peels, whatever floats your boat), acid (powdered citric), and bitter, (cinchona), to your gin. Essentially making a big tonic-tincture, straining out the solids when it is to taste. This has the benefit of relative shelf stability, so far as I can tell. Add to this Some simple syrup and Soda water, and you have tasty, stable, and quick gin and tonics. The drawback is, of course, selection. Your guest does not get a chance to name their gin. Not that the Gordon's is hurting my price point...


Great idea!

Wha do you think how long to keep chinchona in the gin until sraining it out? Has anybody got some experience about infusing these solids?

Would be nice to get some hint about this recipe as I´m a beginner in infusing...


jakob kreitmayer

erik, you can be shure that 1/8th of a teaspoon won't kill you... the bark contains 10 to 15% of pure chinin. you need to eat 8-10g pure chinin to die. you're allowed to use up to 85mg pure chinin per 1000g of liquid in softdrinks(in german law): so, if you don't eat more than 50g of the bark (or drink more than 10 liter schweppes tonic at once) it will keep you alive. don't be affraid of poisioning yourself but you should not serve any kind of tonic to women wich are pregnant! best wishes jakob


I tried this and it wasn't that bad.. turned out pretty well actually. I also found out that you can carbonate a lot of things.. like milk and orange juice and we even tried mashed potatoes.. unsuccessfully. Kudos.

Stock Pots

A. Non.

I know this post is old, but I still wanted to say thank you. I've been wanting to try making my own tonic water for a while, but all the instructions out there were too complicated for my taste.

Only after seeing this post did I finally get some cinchona bark from Tenzing Momo in Seattle, and try this out. This "recipe" is delicious--I'm so happy to not have to buy tonic water any more. I've found that this technique works well with both gin and vodka.

And people--just skip the straining. The powder is all but invisible in the glass, and by the end of the cocktail, you won't care about it anyway.

Camper English

Awesome! Thanks.


cinchona bark has quinine in it

In recent years, quinine has also been discovered to provide aid for those patients who suffer from chronic leg cramps, and thousands of patients have been using it for this purpose. However, recent statistics have revealed several potentially-serious problems with the off-label use of this drug.

Heart Attack
Quinine Cardiac arrhythmias
Liver failure or damage
Kidney failure or damage
Hearing loss
cardiovascular problems
allergic reactions to Quinine



I have linked your page to a discussion on Gizmodo:

best regards.

Camper English

Thank you kindly!

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