Learn how to make tonic water. You’ll learn everything you need to know to make tonic water at home. From which ingredients to use, how to get the best flavors (including unique flavor add-ins), how to store, how to make simple syrup, and how to make a gin and tonic…its all here.
Homemade tonic water is a fun way to enjoy cocktails and impress your guests. Made from citrus zests, barks, herbs, spices, and simple syrup for unique flavors that create wonderful cocktails.
I’m a huge fan of gin and tonics. In fact, it may be my favorite drink. Somehow I’ve never thought to create my own homemade tonic water until now. Wow, have I been missing out!
Homemade tonic water from scratch
There’s something about homemade items that makes them so much tastier. Ever realize how even simple recipes like cookies and brownies made at home are better than anything you can buy at a store? The same goes for homemade tonic water.
What’s even better is you can control the flavors and sweetness, or modify ingredients to make it different each time.
To make things simple I first used a DIY tonic kit that comes with all the dry ingredients you need. You could also find each item separately, which is what I do now. You’ll get more of each item and is cheaper in bulk.
Ingredients in tonic water
- Zest from limes, lemons, and grapefruit: Besides herbal ingredients, this is the main flavor of tonic water. It’s critical to use citrus zest, not juice, for best flavor.
- Fresh lemongrass: Adds strong lemon flavor without acidity.
- Gentian root: A critical ingredient for tonic water and adds signature bitter flavors.
- Cinchona bark: A genus of flowering plants in the Rubiaceae family and adds an earthy flavor.
- Citric acid: A naturally occurring acid that enhances flavors and acts as a natural preservative.
- Salt: Just as with cooking and baking, a bit of salt helps to enhance flavors.
- Optional flavor add-ins: See section below.
- Filtered water: The base to make a tonic water concentrate. When serving cocktails, you’ll be adding gin and club soda.
- Sugar: Balances out the tart and bitter flavors.
Flavor add-ins for tonic water:
Try adding 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of some of the following items:
- Lavender buds
- Star anise
- Juniper berries
- Allspice berries
How to make tonic water
- Stir together lemon, lime and grapefruit zest with sugar in a small bowl. Store overnight covered in the fridge for flavors to meld.
- Combine water, cinchona bark, gentian root, citric acid, lemongrass, and optional add-ins in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately reduce heat to a low simmer and cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and stir in citrus infused sugar; allow to cool completely. Transfer to a sealed jar and store in the fridge overnight.
- Strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer into another jar. Discard dry ingredients. Store liquid the fridge one or two more days to allow sediment to accumulate at the bottom.
- Carefully pour off the clearer liquid into another container and discard sediment.
- Combine with strong simple syrup to dilute the tonic water concentrate.
- Serve in a desired cocktail; such as with gin and club soda to make a Gin and Tonic.
Should you use citrus zest or citrus juice in tonic water?
I’ve tried it both ways and find citrus zest is much better for flavor. Citrus juice is very overpowering and tart, while zest has strong flavors without the acidity.
How to store homemade tonic water
Store tonic water in the fridge for up to a month. The citric acid helps act as a natural preservative. However, homemade tonic water is not room temperature stable without added preservatives.
Longer storage: Tonic water (without any club soda added) can be frozen. I’ve tried it and it works great. Once defrosted, the flavors and consistency aren’t affected in any way.
How to make simple syrup
Simply heat equal parts water and granulated sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir often until melted. Remove from heat and cool completely before using.
The ratio of sugar to water: A 1:1 ratio works best.
How much will it make? 1 cup of water combined with 1 cup of sugar will dissolve together and make roughly 1-½ cups simple syrup.
How to make a gin and tonic
In a cocktail glass filled halfway with ice, stir together 1-½ ounces tonic syrup with 1-½ ounces of gin. Lightly stir in 3 ounces of chilled club soda and serve garnished with a lime wedge.
Cocktail recipes you might like:
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How to Make Tonic Water
Tonic Water concentrate
- Zest from 3 limes
- Zest from 3 lemons
- Zest from one grapefruit
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1 ½ tablespoons cinchona bark
- 1 teaspoon gentian root
- 1 ½ tablespoons citric acid
- ⅔ cup chopped fresh lemongrass
- Spices, herbs or flowers for extra flavor, see recipe note
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups filtered water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
To make Gin and Tonic
- Ice cubes
- Club soda
- Lime wedges, as garnish
Tonic Water concentrate
- Stir citrus zest and sugar together in a small bowl. Store covered overnight in the fridge for flavors to soak in.
- In a medium saucepan, combine water, cinchona bark, gentian root, citric acid, lemongrass, and optional add-ins. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately reduce heat to a low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and stir in citrus infused sugar; allow to cool completely. Transfer to a sealed jar and store in fridge overnight.
- Strain liquid through a fine mesh strainer into another jar or container. Discard all dry ingredients. Store sealed in fridge one or two more days to allow sediment to accumulate at the bottom.
- Carefully pour off the clearer liquid into a larger container and discard sediment. Combine with simple syrup.
To make simple syrup
- Heat water and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir often until melted. Remove from heat and cool completely. Stir in simple syrup. Use more or less to create desired sweetness (add about 2-3 cups of simple syrup).
To serve gin and tonics
- In a cocktail glass filled halfway with ice, stir together 1-½ ounces tonic syrup with 1-½ ounces of gin. Lightly stir in 3 ounces of chilled club soda and serve garnished with a lime wedge.
- While zesting all the citrus takes some time, it's critical for flavor. Do not substitute with citrus juice as it will be too tart and the flavors will not be correct.
- Flavor add-ins: Try adding 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of some of the following items: lavender buds, star anise, juniper berries, allspice berries, or cardamom.
- Store tonic water in the fridge up to a month or freeze part of it for later use.
- You can use store-bought simple syrup if you prefer.
- This recipe makes 2 pints (32 ounces) of tonic water and goes a long way. You'll be adding gin and club soda while serving.
- When serving, use the desired amount of tonic water, gin and club soda to reach preferred flavor and cocktail strength. I've provided a recommendation, but this can be adjusted.