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Friday, June 10, 2016

Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters: Part 2

Welcome to part two of our Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters tutorial. Yesterday, we learned a little bit about simple syrups and got a few delicious combinations to try out. In case you missed it, catch up here. Today, it's on to tonics.


You might wonder why anyone in their right mind would bother making their own tonic water. Big brands in grocery stores only cost about $1, and you can even buy high-quality tonics in specialty stores, so why deal with DIY?

Because when you make it on your own, you can do whatever you want. Don't like lavender? Leave it out! Want to try adding a new-to-you herb or botanical? Experiment to your heart's content! One of the biggest obstacles to making your own tonic is the ingredients list - where are you going to find cinchona bark, citric acid, lemon grass, allspice, cardamom, lavender, and other random botanicals all in one place, without having to order online?

Give you one guess.

Now that you're (hopefully) convinced to make your own tonic, here are a few pointers to get you started:

The main ingredient in tonic is cinchona bark, which contains quinine, the key flavor in tonic. (You might remember that cinchona bark from the Flavors of World Cup, where it was Ecuador's ingredient).

Fun fact: Tonic was first made for medicine! The quinine found in cinchona bark was used to treat malaria. Supposedly, the British added gin and lime to make tonic more palatable, the gin and tonic was born, and the flavor combination stuck.

Cinchona Bark

Typical tonic ingredients include:

Cinchona bark
Citrus zest – lemon, lime, grapefruit, etc.
Lemon grass
Citric Acid (souring agent and helps with preservation)
Green cardamom
Lavender buds

After some digging on the internet, I found two main camps of tonic-makers: the warm brew and the cold brew. The warm brew extracts flavors more quickly, but you're left with a "cooked" flavor in your tonic. The cold brew takes a little longer, but results in a fresher flavor. Try them both and see what you like best.

Warm brew: Combine ingredients with water and sweetener to taste and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes. Strain through coffee filters or cheesecloth and store in a bottle in the refrigerator.

Cold brew: Combine ingredients with water and let infuse for 72 hours, shaking bottle every day. Strain through coffee filters or cheesecloth and stir in a simple syrup of choice (water/sugar or water/agave nectar, for example). Store in a bottle in the refrigerator.

(Recipes with more detail and specific measurements can be found here, here, here, and here.)

To use your freshly brewed tonic syrup, combine 1 part tonic syrup and 4 parts carbonated water, then adjust to taste.

Happy DIY-ing, and check back tomorrow for the conclusion of our tutorial - BITTERS.

This post is part of our series on simple syrups, tonics, and bitters. For others in the series check out:
Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters: Part 1
Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters: Part 2
Simple Syrups, Tonics, and Bitters: Part 3


Kara Elder grew up playing in the kitchen cupboards and reading cookbooks for fun while watching her mom cook tasty Mexican meals. After graduating with a degree in Russian, she found herself increasingly interested in reading food blogs and planning menus. Kara, her mom, and her sister started a food blog of their own, The Troika Table. Kara is a Bazaar Spices Team Member and also works for Joan Nathan, a DC-based cookbook author and food writer. 

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