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.
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.
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.