Refreshing, with a hint of lime, the modern gin and tonic is a far cry from the potion our English ancestors drank a few hundred years ago. As the story goes, malaria-stricken British colonials in India found it necessary to flavor the quinine they were forced to ingest. The preferred method was to add gin and lime. As awful as that rough concoction must have been, they soon developed a taste for it, and the drink became a national standard.
Eventually, the medicinal quinine was tempered by soda water and sugar and patented in England in the 1850s as “tonic water.” It was developed for the American market in 1953 by the Schweppes Beverage Co. Originally, quinine was produced by soaking the bark of the South American cinchona tree and drunk as a tea. But the quinine alkaloid present in modern tonic water is the result of chemical extraction. It’s true that this alkaloid glows in the dark, if you’ve ever wondered about the bluish hue of your Tanqueray and tonic.
Many contemporary tonic waters also include a host of preservatives and the oft-maligned high-fructose corn syrup. It was these additions that led me to experiment with developing my own tonic, using only natural ingredients and unprocessed sweetener. For ease, I created a flavored syrup that can be added to soda water and gin as needed, controlling the sweet-bitter balance of each drink. A good source for cinchona bark is herbspro.com. This tonic has a more pronounced flavor than any store-bought tonic, so try pairing it with a gin that has some weight, like Aviation from House Spirits, or Gin 209 from Distillery 209. —Kevin Ludwig, Portland, Oregon
4 cups water
3 cups pure cane sugar
3 Tbsp. quinine (powdered cinchona bark; available in some herb stores or online)
6 Tbsp. powdered citric acid (found in the bulk section of most well-stocked grocery stores)
3 limes, zested and juiced
3 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped
Cheesecloth or coffee filters
Glass bottles with lids or screwtops
Photos by Stuart Mullenberg