G&T with Homemade Tonic

In my first porch cocktails post, I professed my love for a refreshing G&T. I also mentioned that I was in the midst of crafting some homemade tonic syrup in an effort to spruce up my go-to summer indulgence. Even with memories of this hilarious, disastrous saga in the back of my mind, I was itching to make my own tonic. I’m not one to be scared off by horror stories of DIY gone wrong. In fact, anecdotes like these have been known to encourage me. So, I found a recipe through David Lebovitz’ blog, and hunted down my ingredients, adapting the recipe to suit my needs.

I wanted to work with a clean and simple combination of flavors for my first batch, so I omitted the cardamom that Lebovitz uses. For convenience, I also substituted an additional orange for the grapefruit, zested my citrus rather than peeling the rind with a vegetable peeler, and used one teaspoon of ground allspice instead of 10 allspice berries. Finally, I used some lavender simple syrup in the final step, rather than unflavored syrup.

Tonic Syrup

4 cups water
2 oranges
1 lemon
1 lime
2 1/2 oz (75g) chopped lemongrass (discard top of stalk and root end)
3 tablespoons (33g) citric acid
1/4 cup (22g) chopped chinchona bark
1 tsp ground allspice
2 small star anise
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 cups (375ml) lavender simple syrup

Tonic Ingredients
Tonic ingredients

The mixture was simple enough to prepare. I added water, citrus zest and juice, lemongrass, citric acid, chinchona, and spices to a saucepan. Then, I brought the contents to a boil, and simmered for 15 minutes, partially covering the pan. After 15 minutes, I removed the pan from heat, and let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Next, I transferred the cooled liquid to a large, sterile glass jar. I steeped the mixture in the refrigerator for 48 hours, shaking several times daily.

Homemade Tonic
Ingredients after simmering

After two days, I strained the steeping mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a large liquid measuring cup. Then, I placed a paper coffee filter into a funnel, and strained the mixture through the coffee filter into two sterile glass bottles. This step took AN ETERNITY. In fact, I got impatient halfway through straining, and squeezed the coffee filter to speed the process. This caused a huge portion of the coffee filter’s seam to come unglued, rendering its straining ability somewhat less than useful. Because many ounces of unfiltered liquid promptly drained into the half ounce of filtered liquid that had accumulated over the preceding two hours, I had to strain the tonic again, through a new coffee filter, with my hands clenched firmly together behind my back. In the end, the strained liquid had very little sediment, so the second filtration was probably worthwhile.

With some of the strained liquid in each of the glass containers, I added half of the lavender simple syrup to each. To distribute the simple syrup evenly, I poured the tonic back and forth between the two containers (using my funnel—without filter paper—to prevent spills). After three or four passes from one container to the other, I capped my bottles and returned them to the refrigerator.

That’s the finished product. The only difference between this tonic syrup and store-bought tonic water is that this version is concentrated and uncarbonated. To prepare tonic water, you simply need to add soda water to the tonic syrup. Although the recipe recommends mixing 1 part tonic syrup to 1 part soda water, I prefer 1 part tonic syrup to 2 parts soda water. I still follow my preferred overall ratio of 1 part gin to 2 parts prepared tonic water when I make a G&T, however.

Let me warn you, this tonic is surprisingly bitter. Because that’s exactly 100% of the point when drinking tonic water, it’s got to be a taste that you want to acquire. If you’re still with me, there’s an easy way to adjust this tonic to suit your tastes. With some simple syrup on hand, you can easily add a few spoonfuls to any cocktail to tone down the bitterness. Sure, you could add more than the recommended 1 1/2 cups of simple syrup to the tonic syrup itself, but I like having the ability to adjust the balance of bitterness and sweetness in each drink. It’s a very guest-friendly method of mixing, because it allows me to cater to different tastes. This also means I can make a drink that’s perfectly suited to my own whims. Reason #457 why drinking at home is better? I can be as demanding and particular as I want.

This might seem like a fairly high-maintenance treatment for on an otherwise simple cocktail, but I think the effort is worth it. The flavors in this homemade tonic syrup are infinitely sharper and more distinct than in the typical high-fructose-corn-syrup-dulled mass market varieties. You can really taste the bitter chincona, the spicy peppercorns, the richly complex allspice and star anise, the sour citrus and lemongrass, the floral lavender, and the crisp sweetness of the simple syrup. All of this complexity also lends itself well to–you guessed it–a complex, floral gin like Hendrick’s. So much for the wallet-friendly G&Ts I was so in love with before. On a purely aesthetic level, the subtle honeyed-amber color of the tonic syrup gives an otherwise colorless drink a lovely appearance, and contrasts pleasantly with the vivid green of a lime wedge. For the DIY-minded among us, I think this project is absolutely worth the effort, along with the monetary and time investments.

Finally, I’ll leave you with my upgraded G&T recipe. Let me know if you’ve ever tried a G&T mixed with homemade tonic syrup, or if you’ve ever made it yourself. I’m interested in trying a cold-steeped recipe for my next batch, because I’ve read that cooking the citrus can bring out unpleasant sour notes. Maybe it’s this extra sourness that I object to, rather than the bitterness? My palate is by no means refined, so anybody’s guess is as good as mine. Anyway, I’ll direct my energy toward savoring this current concoction for the foreseeable future, because it easily produces the best G&Ts I’ve ever had. The last one I mixed up even succeeded in taking my mind off of the childish stepping-on-a-bee-while-barefoot accident I had yesterday afternoon.

The Upscale G&THendrick's and tonic

2 parts gin
1 part tonic syrup
2 parts soda water
1-2 tsp lavender simple syrup
large lime wedge

Squeeze lime wedge into a highball glass, run along the rim of the glass, and drop into the bottom of the glass. Pack the glass with as many large ice cubes as it will accommodate. Then, add gin, tonic syrup and soda water. Add simple syrup to taste. Stir the mixture with a long-handled spoon.

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