Guest Editors

How to Make Quinine Syrup for a Better Gin and Tonic

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. 

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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.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Luis Antonio Diaz
    Luis Antonio Diaz
  • Terry
  • barr
  • Laura415
  • Colm Garvey
    Colm Garvey


Luis A. June 23, 2020
Nice recipe! My favorite is LAVA Ginger Lemonade Mix, it's super delicious!
Terry March 12, 2016
I can't wait to try it Sounds like fun
barr February 8, 2015
I wonder about the 6 grams of chinchoa as well. Most recipes call for 1/4 cup
keeleyt84 March 8, 2015
Most recipes are based on his original recipe. I'm glad he dialed it down. The old recipe was way too muddy.
Laura415 December 15, 2014
A lot of this is old so I hope people found the cinchona bark. I found mine,
(in San Francisco) at an herbal apothecary called Scarlet Sage. Otherwise has it, as do many online resources.
Here's my problem/question/ideas.
I want my tonic syrup to taste as fresh and bright as possible. Has anyone tried a cold extraction method? I saw one and wondered if the ingredients would infuse fully in cold water. Not to mention that it is possible with these ingredients to grow mold even with all the acid in it. (to my surprise I had a cooked batch that grew mold)
My last few batches (cooked) I used a combination of vinegar and citric acid to make what I call a tonic shrub. It was good but not bitter enough. I then added drops of Grapefruit seed extract which is super bitter. I believe GSE is also a great preservative.
I'm getting ready to make a batch for holiday gifts. I like the inclusion here of genetian root. That should make it super bitter. I already have an infusion of genetian root in high proof alcohol so I may use it to fine tune the flavor of this tonic syrup to my liking for super bitter:)
Colm G. October 24, 2014
Only 6 grams of powdered chincona bark? Is that a typo?
Hayden July 22, 2014
Mint simple syrup!
Steve F. July 21, 2014
Morgenthaler's tonic change my world--luckily I have a friend who makes that. :)
I've been making limoncello with the lemons from my trees for years.
J T. July 20, 2014
Fruit and citrus syrups! They make the best DIY cocktails and are so easy to customize and experiment with
Erin July 20, 2014
Grenadine. Will never buy the stuff in a bottle.
hobbit2nd July 20, 2014
Margarita mix.
Sharon R. July 19, 2014
Basil simple syrup(or any herbal simple syrup)
Victoria July 19, 2014
Margarita mix, have you seen what's in the store bought ones, gross.
ben H. July 19, 2014
Rootbeer bitters. Diy. I am hooked!
Linda July 18, 2014
spiced rum
Kat W. July 18, 2014
Elderberry syrup with cinnamon and ginger. It's delicious with tequila, amazing on pancakes, and is known to knock out colds!
eve July 17, 2014
Fruit & spice syrups. Great in cocktails or to flavor seltzer.
Beth L. July 17, 2014
Orange, citrus and honey infused chamomile tea. Great with any bourbon, simple and refreshing nonetheless :-)
AntoniaJames July 17, 2014
Favorite ingredient to DIY? Ratafias. Usually with fun spices. ;o)
Laura415 December 15, 2014
I would dearly love to make these. That and falernum (tiki drink flavors) Can you post your ratiafia recipe?
AntoniaJames July 16, 2014
Provisions should get on the phone with Oaktown Spice Shop ASAP to include cinchona bark in Provisions's offerings here on Food52. Provisions? Are you listening? ;o)
Kenzi W. July 22, 2014
Thanks for the great suggestions! They're always appreciated. You'll be pleased to know that this will launch at the end of August. :)
Chris H. July 16, 2014
Is the proof of the vodka important to the tincture? Or are 80 and 100 proof interchangeable for this purpose?