Homemade Tonic Water | Jam & Bread
Alcohol,  Drinks

Homemade Tonic Water

Homemade Tonic Water is simply the best way to upgrade your cocktail repertoire. The process is easy, and most of the time required to make it is completely hands off. Be aware that your homemade tonic water is going to have a slight yellowish-orangish tinge to it. This is completely natural and would exist in commercial tonics if they didn’t strip the color from the final product.

Homemade Tonic Water | Jam & Bread | Matthew Smedal
Homemade Tonic Water | Jam & Bread | Matthew Smedal

The great tonic water shortage of 2020

I don’t know about the rest of you, but a year ago when the Pandemic first hit and everyone was buying toilet paper and paper towels we here in Boston suffered another shortage: Tonic Water.

This one I can understand a bit more than bathroom paper products. No one likes the Pandemic. Politicians may argue about the best ways to deal with it, but there is no average person sitting at home thinking: “Gosh, what a stress-free time this is,” or “I’m so glad this world-wide plague has descended upon all of us.” We are, in fact, in a time of crisis. And in times of crisis it’s sort of natural to turn to a gentle, liquid indulgence every now and then.

But the good people of Boston REALLY turned to that indulgence. The shelves were bare. No Fever-Tree, no Q, no Schweppes or Polar even. Determined to avoid the shortage in my house I turned to the internet to see what I could find.

Creating a recipe for homemade tonic water

In this search, the internet was disappointing.

Google doesn’t really return that many recipes because most people haven’t started making Homemade Tonic Water yet. And that’s a shame because the flavor is so good, and so distinctly superior to anything store-bought that making it should become part of your monthly routine.

Determined to keep the G&T in our weekend repertoire I went into the kitchen and started to make up my own batches of homemade tonic water. I can’t lie to you, the first few were not good. But batch by batch I learned some key principles:

  • The tonic has to have enough sugar to balance out some of the really bitter taste of the Cinchona bark (quinine). And that stuff is BITTER.
  • This then led to the happy discovery that adding some sugar also allowed for ample bitter citrus. I mean, YUM.
  • A few whole spices and a pinch of salt were needed to round out the endeavor. Truthfully, I’m not sure if the pinch of salt actually adds much or if I’m just in love with the idea of adding a pinch of salt. Either way, it’s such a small amount it’s certainly not going to hurt anything.

A note on quinine and Cinchona bark.

Cinchona bark can be difficult to source here in the States, but not impossible. I recommend you get chopped bark, as it’s easier to measure and work with than either powdered versions or long twigs of the stuff. I got mine from a small, locally owned, shop in California that I found online. While it wasn’t inexpensive the quantity you use to make homemade tonic water is so small that the bag I got has lasted an entire year with barely a dent in it. And it’s not like bark is going to go bad after a while. I mean it’s bark. It’s good to go. As an added bonus, I ordered myself some paprika from the same shop and honestly haven’t had the spice taste that good since my cousin hauled out her home-grown, home-ground, paprika the last time I was in Hungary.

I sourced my Cinchona bark from Lhasa Karnak Herb Company in Berkely, California. They do not sponsor me or have any idea I’m promoting them. They’re just nice people who ship a good product.

Now, heads up: Quinine is toxic. Yes, you read that correctly. And lots of people on the internet have well-intentioned if under-informed blog posts where they warn you of how a single drop of it is going to kill you.**

Listen, I am not a medical expert. The people on the internet who tell you quinine will kill you are not medical experts. In fact, we exist in a culture of non-experts talking as if they know what they’re talking about (has anyone turned on a 24-hours news station lately? Pro-tip: If you want to live a better, less-angry, more fulfilling life… turn off the television).

Here’s the deal: I suppose you could consume enough quinine to kill you. But do you know what else is toxic and will kill you if you consume it in high enough quantities? Alcohol.

Here is what I have learned from my own research into quinine:

  1. Quinine is a medicine that has been used to treat malaria for almost 400 years.
  2. Legend has it that the Gin and Tonic was created as a way to make the bitter tasting extract more palatable. “Want to ward off malaria? Here, drink this.”
  3. To this day quinine is listed on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.

**If you are at all concerned about the toxicity of quinine, or have any inclination to sue me, or my loved one, I insist that you hold fast to your beliefs, close your web-browser and go enjoy a lovely glass of ice water.

Building off of a template

Now that we have a template for our homemade tonic water, we can use this as a jumping off point to create endless variations.

  • Is it the middle of winter and you want a blood orange tonic? Add a couple of blood oranges to the mix. You seriously won’t regret it.
  • Love elderflower? Get rid of the orange and add in some of that.
  • Want a diet tonic water? Substitute artificial sweetener for 50% of the sugar.
  • Or how about an earthy, Mediterranean flavor? Kick the orange out and try adding in some lemon thyme and rosemary.

Once you have my basic formula down, you can modify it to your heart’s content.

Other things you might be interested in:

If you’re looking for more inspiration you might enjoy one of these other recipes I’ve posted!

Tag me Instagram @jamandbreadofficial (I love seeing when other people make one of my recipes!) and please consider leaving me a review below if you make my recipe for Homemade Tonic Water. I really hope that you love it, and that you are ON BOARD with making my Homemade Tonic Water a staple of repertoire. 

For even more recipe ideas you can follow me on Pinterest!


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Homemade Tonic Water | Jam & Bread

Homemade Tonic Water

  • Author: Matthew Smedal
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 days
  • Yield: 2 cups (500ml) 1x
  • Category: Drinks
  • Cuisine: British


Homemade Tonic Water is the best way to upgrade your cocktail repertoire. The process is simple, and most of the time required to make it is completely hands off. Be aware that your homemade tonic is going to have a slight yellowish-orangish tinge to it. This is completely normal.



for your tonic water:

  • 2 cups (500ml) water
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 small limes, zest and juice
  • 1 orange, zest and juice
  • 4 small stalks (40g) chopped lemongrass (discard the root)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (15g) citric acid
  • 2 tablespoons (15g) chopped Cinchona bark
  • 2 allspice berries
  • 3 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • Pinch of kosher salt

for your high-octane simple syrup:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (150g)
  • 3/4 cup of water (175ml)


  1. Add your water, lemon zest and juice, lime zest and juice, orange zest and juice, lemongrass, citric acid, cinchona bark, allspice berries, cardamom pods and salt to a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer. Cover and leave the lid askew so that steam can escape. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Pour into a jar, cover, and chill for 2 days in the refrigerator, shaking it gently when you remember a couple of times a day.
  3. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve. Discard all solids. If there is any sediment left you can strain the mixture again through cheesecloth or a coffee filter but heads up: This will take a while.
  4. Make a high-octane simple syrup by bringing 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 3/4 of a cup of water to a boil for one minute. Let cool a bit.
  5. Add the sugar syrup to the tonic, then pour into clean bottles or screw-top jars and refrigerate until ready to use.


To mix: 2 tablespoons (30ml) tonic, 2 ounces (60ml) gin, and 2 ounces (60ml) sparkling water. Squeeze a lime wedge into the drink. (Adjust to taste, less tonic will allows more of the gin’s flavor to come through). Serve over ice.

To store: The tonic will keep for a few months in the refrigerator. Don’t tighten the lid all the way, just screw it on finger tight so the tonic has a little room to breathe. 

Keywords: gin & tonic, G&Ts, homemade tonic, quinine


  • Angel

    Our shelves in Louisiana have been quite bare as of late so my curiosity and unwillingness to surrender my favorite nightcap led me here. This sounds delicious and I look forward to trying it! Love the bit about quinine being on the WHO list.

    • Matthew

      OK, so it’s not just Boston that’s out of tonic water then! Please let me know how you like it (we love it here, and I’m embarrassed to say how much homemade tonic water we’ve had over the past year).

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