Home-made Bitter Lemon Recipe

Following a number of requests for Bitter Lemon recipes, I decided to have a go at making one myself.

So what is Bitter Lemon? Essentially, it is tonic water with an added element of lemon; often this comes from the juice, but it could come from the zest or the pith/peel. In addition, sugar is often added to stop the lemon from making the drink too tart. So there is a difference between tonic water with a twist of lemon and bitter lemon.

The world’s biggest name in Bitter Lemon is Schweppes who, already famous for their tonic water, released their variety, which they claim was the first commercial one, in 1957. Another increasingly well-known name in the market is Fevertree’s Lemon Tonic, which is essentially Bitter Lemon, but uses its name as a more accurate description of what it is.

On with the recipe:

Juice & zest of 4 medium lemons (or 3 large)

Pith of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp of Chili Powder

1 tsp Cinchona Bark

4 tsp Citric Acid

300ml Granulated Sugar*

100ml of Water

Add all the ingredients to a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

Leave to cool, strain through a sieve, then coffee filter and bottle.

Mix one part of your newly made Bitter Lemon Syrup to two parts soda water, and serve with ice. For an extra treat, add an ounce of your favourite gin. I like mine with Foxdenton’s. And of course who could resist mixing it with a spot of Sloe Gin in a Long Peddler?

* For a less messy method do not add the sugar to the pan:

Add zest/juice/pith, chilli powder, chichona bark, water
Bring to the boil, simmer
Stain the mixture through a clean tea towel in to a bowl
Stir in the sugar whilst the mixture is still hot
Cool, Bottle, Refrigerate

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About DTS

partial to a martini? to a smoke-hazed gin joint & a perfect tipple poured with the style, swank & skill of a true aficionado? …then pull up your stool to the bar, prepare to stock up your cocktail cabinet & get ready to drink it all in as we introduce you to a stitch in times’ resident barman… David T. Smith is a drinks enthusiast currently residing in the U.K. a long-time fan of tasting & exploring various types of alcohol, he has a fascination for vintage spirits and cocktails, in particular their heritage & origins; this was strengthened last year when he presented a talk and accompanying monograph on the Martini. it was as a result of his research of this topic that he was introduced to drinks paraphernalia, & he is now the happy owner of a colourful collection of bottles, books, and gadgets from a wide range of eras… an avid believer in the validity and variety of personal opinion, particularly in the subjective area of tasting, he enjoys hosting tasting sessions for friends, constantly challenging them to find their own favourite tipple. in addition to all of this, he is also interested in economics, three-piece suits, board games & keeping alive the art of engaging in enjoyable conversation with a good glass of port whilst surrounded by pipe smoke… www.summerfruitcup.com Thanks to Analiebe for writing this rather flattering blurb for me.

17 thoughts on “Home-made Bitter Lemon Recipe

  1. So perhaps the last post was a bit premature and enthusiastic. While this recipe and the subsequent one with no chili at all was quite delicious, once cool it failed in the most fascinating way.

    As it was going through the coffee filter, suddenly it stopped draining entirely. It had gelled! Apparently boiling lemon piths in acid is a great way to extract pectin. Perhaps boiling for more time would help? Next time I’m going to try boiling the pith alone in the water and cinchona for 15 minutes, then adding the zest, juice, citric acid, and sugar. Apparently pectin extraction is strongly ph-sensitive, so I’m hoping that by withholding the acid until the zests are out (and avoiding pulp) I can get the same flavor profile without making (very) bitter lemon jelly.

    I’ll post the results to round 3 when I have them!

  2. Hey Michael B, thanks for the feedback and comments. You make a good point about leaving the sugar out initially. I was trying out a variety of Tonic Syrup recipes yesterday and I found that the easier recipes added the sugar later.
    So what I’d try is:
    Add zest/juice/pith, chilli powder, chichona bark, water
    Bring to the boil, simmer
    Stain the t0 mixture through a clean tea towel in to a bowl
    Stir in the sugar whilst the mixture is still hot
    Cool, Bottle, Refrigerate

    With this method you may not even need a coffee filter at all.

  3. So I had a bit of spare time this morning and I tried out my recipe in #3 I wouldn’t go back. Didn’t need a coffee filter at all, a lot less fuss but tastes just as good.

  4. I had the same issue that Michael B had…I had a Bitter Lemon Jelly. Did it make any difference if you boiled the Chicona bark, zest and pith separately, then added the acids?

    • Yes! It worked brilliantly. Delicious bitter lemon. Much darker than commercial ones, but great. Here’s the process:

      -Boil the piths, zest, and cinchona.
      -Add sugar, citric acid, juice, spice, whatever else
      -bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar

      • Thanks for the comments folks – I am intrigued, how do you drink/mix your Bitter Lemon – always as a soft drink or ever in cocktails?

      • DTS, I like is straight or with a jigger of gin. I discovered it a few years ago, and as I mentioned it’s become difficult to find in the Washington DC area. Not sure why. The American palate is tepid for bitter flavors.

  5. BTW, I love bitter lemon and it’s all but impossible to find it in America for some reason. I warmed up the Bitter Lemon Jelly, and added a bit over twice as much water to it, and it made about a liter of the stuff. It’s got the right taste, though it’s amber colored and much darker than commercial brands. I’ll try this again!

    • Hey Clark,

      Glad you managed to sort out your jelly situation. It’s not something I’ve come across when making it. I tend to add all the ingredient (except sugar at once) I get my pith by taking a vegetable peeler to one of the lemons I have zested and haven’t had any problems. It is possible out UK lemon have some variation on the US one – I know the limes are often different.

      • Indeed, produce is very different on the other side of the Atlantic, I remember being astonished that European strawberries were much smaller, but actually tasted like a strawberry ought to taste!

  6. DTS, sorry to keep bugging you…but one more question, please. You list “300 ml granulated sugar”. I think of a milliliter as a liquid measure, so I weighed out 300 milligrams of granulated sugar. Did you use a 1:1 sugar/water simple syrup and measure 300ml, or did you measure 300 ml granulated sugar in a liquid measuring cup? I think I used too much sugar, is why I ask.

    • No worries. You’re quite right – I put the sugar in the white granulated sugar into the liquid measuring jug. So the volume/quantity is the equivalent of 300ml.

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