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. —Kevin Ludwig, Portland, Oregon
In a medium saucepan, bring 3 cups of cane sugar and 4 cups of water to a boil until the sugar dissolves, then turn the heat down to low.
Add 3 Tbsp. of quinine, 6 Tbsp. of powdered citric acid, 3 stalks of lemongrass, roughly chopped, and the zest and juice of 3 limes. 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.
Funnel the syrup into sterilized glass bottles, cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to several weeks.