How to Make Quinine Syrup for a Better Gin and Tonic

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All week long, Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland's Clyde Common and Pepe Le Moko will be sharing recipes and techniques from his new book, The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. Follow along to win one of five copies we’re giving away -- and to perfect your at-home cocktails.

Today: Jeff shares his secret to an amazing gin and tonic.

Tonic Water on Food52  Quinine Tincture on Food52

I began my first experiments with house-made tonic water in 2007. I was looking for a tonic with more assertive flavors and natural ingredients than those found in commercial tonic water: A glance at the standard-issue tonic available at most bars and restaurants reveals the lack of flavor even before you open the bottle. Just look at the ingredients: water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, sodium benzoate, and quinine. I thought we could do better. 

Conversely, my issue with most homemade tonic water was that it had too assertive a flavor profile for the general public. My first recipe was lauded by bartenders and home mixologists all over the Internet and in newspapers, but I personally found it to be muddy, dirty, earthy, and, quite frankly, a bit tough to drink.

More: You know what's not tough to drink? A classic Daiquiri.

I set out, yet again, in search of a tonic recipe that I could be proud of, and that I would enjoy drinking. It finally dawned on me that if I made a tincture of quinine -- the bitter compound that forms the base for tonic water -- and then made a quinine syrup, I could have more control over the flavor of the whole drink.  

This is the formula I landed on: Mix 1 part quinine syrup to 3 parts soda water. Or mix 1 part quinine syrup to 3 parts still water and carbonate using a carbonator. And then make yourself a gin and tonic.

Quinine Tincture on Food52  Quinine Tincture on Food52

Quinine Syrup

Makes 28 ounces (830 milliliters), with enough tincture left over for 2 more batches

6 grams powdered cinchona bark (red will be more assertive, yellow is milder and less bitter)
150 milliliters vodka
20 grams citric acid
10 grams whole gentian root
2 grams Ceylon soft-stick cinnamon, broken by hand into small pieces
30 grams lemon peel, peeled with a vegetable peeler
30 grams grapefruit peel, peeled with a vegetable peeler
400 grams sugar
500 milliliters water

To make the tincture: Dissolve the powdered cinchona bark in the vodka. Mix well, and then strain the mixture through a paper coffee filter fitted into a strainer (or a filter cone, if you have one) and suspend over a large enough container to accommodate the final volume of vodka. This process could take up to 1 hour, so don't worry if it seems like nothing is happening. (Note: The tincture lasts forever.)

Quinine Syrup on Food52  Quinine Syrup on Food52

Combine all the ingredients for the aromatics in a medium saucepan. Heat them over medium heat just until boiling, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Strain out the solids and let the liquid cool.

Quinine Syrup on Food52  Quinine Syrup on Food52

Stir 1 1/2 ounces (45 milliliters) of the quinine tincture into the cooled aromatics, and then pour it into a sterilized bottle. Seal it tightly and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

We're giving away a copy of The Bar Book every day this week! To enter to win today's copy, tell us in the comments: What's your favorite ingredient to DIY? We'll pick five winners at random next Monday, July 21!

Mint photo by James Ransom. All other photos by Alanna Hale. Excerpted from the book The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique by Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Reprinted with permission from Chronicle Books. All rights reserved.

Tags: Guest Editors