Quinine-free Tonic Water Recipe

On a few occasions, including our recent Beefeater London Market masterclass with Dre Masso, I have heard that, in Japan, quinine is banned and so the tonic water is rather different there and making a good gin & tonic is difficult. I believe this fact was inspiration for Beefeater 24.

So setting aside whether you can technically have a quinine-free “tonic water” I set about making a tonic water substitute without quinine. Could you use a  different bittering agent? I had a discussion with a chap in the industry and he suggested gentian root. This is an ingredient in Angostura Bitters, Bundaburg Brewed Bitters, Aperol and the extra-bitter liqueur, Suze; so it’s flavour is not unknown to the drinks world.

Whilst attempting to source some gentian root, I found that, whilst you can easily buy wormwood, angelica root and marshmallow root in my local town, gentian is nowhere to be found! Still, I managed to find some online and so, earlier on today, I set about experimenting to produce a non-quinine-based tonic water.

I’ve never used gentian root before, so my first step was to make some tea up using a few specks of the root. With just three small pieces, it had quite a busy, bitter flavour – a good start.

The recipe given below is the second that I tried (our favourite) and is based on a tonic syrup recipe.

Zest of half a lime and half a lemon

1.5 tsp Citric Acid

1 tsp Genitian Root

8 Juniper Berries (crushed)

Pinch of spice

180 ml Water

Add ingredients to a small saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

Strain the mixture and stir in 5 tsp of sugar, ensuring that it dissolves.

Allow to cool and then bottle and keep refrigerated.

To drink, mix 3:1 or 4:1 with soda or sparkling water.


The Taste

1) Own

I mixed this with soda water 3:1. Both Mrs. B and I were surprised at the similarity to tonic water, if you are familiar with gentian flavour, you’ll pick it out but with a broader brush it’s pretty close.

2) Gin & Tonic

I also made a Gin & Tonic with Plymouth Gin in a 2:1 ratio with the diluted tonic water. This was good drink, full of flavour and perhaps with a little more bitter bite than the commercial options. The Plymouth still had room to breath and could be tasted.

3) GT Turbo

(Gin, Tonic Syrup, Lime Juice and Orange Bitters)

Another favourite cocktail of mine is Purl’s GT Turbo. This was really packed with flavour and would make a good pre-dinner cocktail, raising the appetite well. A greta combination of juniper and herbal bitterness and the tartness of citrus. Shake well to ensure it is ice cold. Lovely.

In Conclusion

Frankly I’m surprised at how well this turned out, it was a bit of a long-shot but has turned out rather well. I’ve tried about ten different recipes for tonic water syrup (using quinine) and this was easily my favourite. If you try it yourself I’d be keen to know what you think.

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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.

8 thoughts on “Quinine-free Tonic Water Recipe

    • Whatever you fancy/have available really.
      All-spice, Chinese Five Spice, Cinnamon, Nutmeg or Ginger maybe even Chilli Pepper.

  1. Hi, So glad to come across your recipe as tinnitus has put a stop to my enjoying a G&T because quinine is on the avoid list. Any idea how long this will store? Thanks for posting, Lisa

    • Hey Lisa,

      Glad it’s of help, sorry to hear about the tinnitus.

      If you keep it in the refrigerator, the citric acid will help it keep for about 6 weeks. If you add about 20-30ml of vodka to the recipe you should be able to at least double that.

      The indicator that any syrup is past its best is that mould will form on the top (charming I know) – a clean bottle and the tips mentioned above will help to guard against this.

  2. I miss having tonic water, ever since I became allergic to quinine (weird, huh?).
    I will have to try your substitute; sounds promising.

  3. Just had a diagnosis of Myasthenia Gravis, and although there’s only anecdotal suggestions that Quinine is not a good plan, the fact that it’s a muscle relaxant,and my own G&T responsive droopy eye means that I will be trying this to supplement my favourite drink. Long Sentence. Breathe! Thanks!!

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