**Tammy Taylor Manager and head bartender at Church & State in Washington, D.C.**
By Tammy Taylor
I have a confession to make. I am obsessed with liquor, and it’s not just a small obsession. It’s huge and not just with drinking it. Though, I do not deny that’s part of it. I’m obsessed with what I can do to make it different, well, better. So when presented with a recipe to make my own tonic at Church&State, I jumped on it.
Originally, tonic was used for medicinal purposes to ward off against malaria in South America and Africa. The “tonic” was made by soaking the bark from the South American cinchona (kenKEEnah) tree to extract quinine, a natural prophylactic against malaria, and then drinking it as a tea. The quinine tonic was so bitter that eventually the British added lime and gin to tame the bitterness of the drink…so the tonic came first and the gin was the mixer! Thus the beloved “gin and tonic” was born.
But the tonic we drink today is a far cry from what the British drank back then. The first commercial tonic was produced in Britain in the 1850s by adding soda water and sugar. In 1953, Schweppes Beverage Co. brought to the American market. The quinine in the American tonic is produced by a chemical extraction; not by soaking tree bark. It also contains a lot less quinine because the U.S Food and Drug Administration limits the amount of quinine to 83 parts per million. This dilution, along with the high fructose corn syrup that is added, makes it a lot less bitter. It can be argued that American tonic produced for bars on the rail is so far removed from the original formula that it shouldn’t even be called tonic water.
How awesome was it to find out that it was not only better, but easy to make. I found the cinchona bark online without much trouble so I bought it and began experimenting. The earthiness you get is amazing and I, a non-bitter drinker, don’t even mind how bitter and sour it tastes. I haven’t had a gin yet that hasn’t been complimented by my new obsession. I have since modified the recipe and created the “tonic of the month” for our bars. So far, I’ve steeped in lavender, rose hip and the current tonic is hibiscus.
4 cups water
3 cups pure cane sugar
3 Tbsp. quinine (powdered cinchona bark)
6 Tbsp. powdered citric acid
3 limes, zested and juiced
3 stalks lemongrass, roughly chopped
In a medium saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil until the sugar dissolves, then turn the heat down to low. Add the quinine, citric acid, lemongrass, lime zest and lime juice. Stir well and simmer for about 25 minutes, until the powders are dissolved and the syrup is thin and runny. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain out the large chunks through a colander, then filter through cheesecloth or coffee filters to refine. This step can take a while—and many filters—as the bark is a very fine powder, so be patient.
*Gintender’s drunken wisdom*
If you are a fan of gin and tonics and you are sipping a super premium gin opt for a better tonic. It makes a dramatic difference! Schweppes is a solid choice as are artesian products such as Fevertree or Q tonic out of Brooklyn. If you are in a bar and have no options other then harsh rail tonic, consider choosing a heavier juniper London dry style gin versus a “New Western style” softer juniper spirit, that will be able to stand up to the tonic.