I’m into liquids this week, what can I say?

I’m not a big alcohol drinker as you know, seeing as it makes me rather pink in the face. However. I can appreciate alcohol produced on a truly craft level. For example, I’m mildly obsessed with this certain secret whiskey that I’m going to tell you about in my book soon.

Furthermore, I was out for a friend’s birthday the other evening, and the menu touted “homemade tonic water.” I had to know more.

They mixed it into some clear alcoholic liquid and it boggled my mind. The truth is, they could have mixed it into some lemonade and seltzer water and it still would have boggled my mind. It was all about the non-alcoholic tonic baby.

I want to teach you how to make it. Because we should all have tonic water in our repertoire. Chicken wings and tonic water. And a bed roll. That’s what we need in life.

These are some of the ingredients to gather. Minus the orange. I rejected the orange upon second thought.

There are some tricky ingredients here. But that’s what the WWW is for. Here’s one spot to buy the cinchona powder. Or if you’re like me and you happen to live in a hippie dippie neighborhood like… say… Berkeley, there will be a mystical herb store right on the corner with a very stern woman behind the counter. And she will serve forth cinchona bark. And tell you that they don’t offer it in powder form. And stare at you blankly. And sternly.

I’m just saying that could happen. Not that I would know. It’s just a coincidence that I have bark here… and if you have bark like me rather than bark powder, just grind it in a coffee grinder. And if you don’t have a coffee grinder, just use it as is and all will be well. Promise.

This is the bark of a cinchona tree and when in powder it is called “quinine powder.” That’s the term you most often hear with tonic water — quinine.

Lemon grass is everywhere in Asian grocery stores and markets. I’ve even seen it in Whole Foods and a few other spots. It’s not something that you notice unless you’re looking for it. But it’s there. Or ask them to get some in for you. Usually you can sweet talk the food buyer over the phone.

You want to bang on the lemon grass with the back of a knife first to help release the flavor.

Then you cut it into beautiful rings.

All of those ingredients simmer together in water and reduce by at least half, until thick and a bit syrupy.

Then you strain a first time to get the larger pieces out.

Then you strain a second time through cheesecloth. Don’t use a coffee filter the way I did unless you have a lot of…

… patience. I do not. I want to taste immediately. I wait for no tonic water. Plus I think some barky sediment gives it that rustic quality I’m going for.

And that’s when you mix your syrup with your seltzer water. And then with your clear alcoholic liquid or your lemonade. The color will be brown not clear like the tonic water you see in the store. And it will have a nice barky flavor. My suggested ratios are below…

Give it a try sometime!

“Homemade Tonic Water”

Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time50 mins
Servings: 1 cup tonic syrup


  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped lemon grass about 2 stalks
  • 1 cup raw sugar evaporated cane juice, or white sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup powdered cinchona bark (1/8 cup for a less "barky" flavor)
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon allspice powder
  • 1 bottle seltzer water


  • Combine all of the ingredients except the seltzer water in a pot and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the liquid simmer for about 45 minutes until reduced and slightly thickened.
  • Strain the liquid though a fine strainer and discard the solids. Then pass the liquid through some cheesecloth into a storage container.
  • To use the syrup mix it with the seltzer water in a ratio of 3:1. Then combine it with gin, vodka, or whatever you please in a ratio of about 4:1 or whatever suits your taste. Garnish with a lime and squeeze some of that juice in there to finish.