After spending a small fortune for rare ingredients to MAKE MY OWN VERMOUTH I obviously had enough left over for another 10 years of vermouth experiments and maybe crazed experiments in tonic water too. In fact it is not tonic water but a tonic cordial frozen as ice cubes that is then diluted to make the true tonic water.
These were the best resources I found were:
Tonic water has always and always will have a quinine in it. Quinine is the very reason it exists as a herbal tonic to stop malaria, that morphed into tonic water and was thus added to gin or cocktails ever since. I cannot get my hands on cinchona bark the ingredient that gives the quinine as in Britain it is restricted for sale… as you can poison yourself… or others with it. Quinine is extracted from cinchona but no one really knows how much is extracted in a domestic setting and many recipes if followed with maximum extraction could bring it to toxic levels. Which brings us to the recipes you can get your hands on for making cinchona bark-based tonic – no one really knows if they are truly safe.
Seeing as I did not have cinchona and I did have The Fear, I decided to look at non-cinchona recipes and see what I could do with the ingredients I did have. A decent spread of the ingredients seems to be:
- BITTERS – cinchona bark… or quassia bark, gentian root, (with hops, dandelion root)
- ZESTS – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit
- BOTANICALS – lemongrass, cardamom, allspice, star anise, peppercorns, coriander seed, ginger, lavender
- SWEET – sugar, agave nectar
- ACID – lemon, lime, grapefruit juice, citric acid
- SALT – salt… obviously
The two non-cinchona bittering agents I could use were quassia bark or gentian root. Quassia bark is intensely bitter and only needs 1/4 of the weight to give a similar bitterness to quinine. Do not confuse quassia with cassia bark that is very similar to nutmeg. Gentian is apparently gram-for-gram very similar to cinchona which I plan to test for the next batch. Hops and dandelion root are not a primary bittering agent but rather to add flavour complexity. The botanicals vary greatly with some preferring a very zesty flavour, others a more aromatic version with lavender. Some may like to just add allspice while others muddle with various extra ingredients. I would say that grapefruit should be used sparingly – an interesting addition but one that can dominate and also lemon grass can go from fragrant ingredient to pungent overpowering uber-taste very easily. Agave syrup can be substituted for granulated sugar but only 2/3 of the weight is needed. The ratio of sweetness you need really is key to a good tonic as too little dulls the overall taste and hitting the literal sweet spot makes all the botanicals come alive.
Poisonous ingredients and their ratios might be a nightmare but the method could not be easier. Boil – Simmer – Soak – Strain – Sweeten.
- Boil the bittering agents to extract as much flavour as possible for 10 minutes. Filter into a new pan
- Add the botanicals and simmer for a further 20 minutes
- Leave to cool and add the citrus to soak for 3 days in a sealed jar in a cool dark cupboard
- Strain and add sugar
- Freeze in ice cube trays
When it comes time to use the tonic drop a tonic icecube in your glass and dilute with x5 the volume of sparkling water or soda water.
Now without further ado.. seriously, look at the links I posted to see what they did… this is my personal recipe tailor made for me…
TONIC WATER A LA GAZETTE – 1 LITRE
Quassia wood 7g (or gentian root 20g)
Hops 1 head (I found some foraged but non-essential)
Dandelion root 3g
Lemon grass x 2 stalks bruised
Zest of 3 limes, 3 lemons, 2 oranges (1/2 grapefruit optional)
Juice of 2 limes, 2 lemons (1/2 grapefruit optional)
Cardamom x 6 pods
Allspice berry x 4 (I used 1/8 tsp allspice powder)
1/4 tsp coriander seers crushed
1/2 tsp peppercorns crushed
1/4 tsp salt
Agave nectar 350g
Boil one litre of water and drop in the quassia wood, hops and dandelion root and boil for 10 minutes to extract all of the bitterness. Drop to a simmer and add the Lemon grass x 2 stalks bruised, cardamom (removed from the pod and lightly crushed) allspice, crushed coriander seeds & peppercorns and salt for 20 minutes.
Leave to cool then filter before adding the juice, zests and sugar and stir until dissolved. Leave in a sealed sterile bottle for three days then filter into ice cube trays and freeze. The cubes will last at least three months probably more. Dilute with sparkling or soda water when needed.