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Tonic water: sweet, bitter medicine.

Greg Best

For the tonic:
1 gallon filtered water
3 tablespoons powdered cinchona bark *
3/4 ounce crystallized citric acid
8-10 dashes Reagan's orange bitters
1/2 cup simple syrup or agave nectar, plus more to taste

For the cocktail:
2 ounces gin, preferably Miller's or Hendrick's
3 ounces tonic water, from above

For the garnish:
Lemon twist

* Available through Raintree Nutrition, (800) 780-5902 or

For the tonic: In large pot combine water and cinchona powder, and
bring to boil. Strain through Buchner funnel to remove as much brown
color as possible. [Note: it is acceptable to strain through
fine-mesh sieve lined with paper filter, but the liquid will remain
brown] Using mortar and pestle, crush citric acid to fine powder.
Add to liquid and stir about three minutes to incorporate. Add
bitters and simple syrup or agave nectar. Adjust sweetness to taste.
Place mixture in soda siphon and charge with cartridge of C02.
Refrigerate until needed.

For the cocktail: In shaker filled with ice, combine gin and tonic.
Shake and strain into Collins glass filled with large ice cubes.
Garnish with lemon twist.

Jerry Slater

For the tonic water base:
24 ounces sugar cane juice*
12 ounces water
6 whole star anise
6 white peppercorns
6 black peppercorns
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon cinchona powder
1 teaspoon citric acid
1 teaspoon gray sea salt

For the tonic water:
6 ounces tonic water base
24 ounces water, chilled

* Fresh juice is preferred; Goya[R] offers a bottled version.

For the tonic water base: In medium saucepan over medium heat,
combine sugar cone juice and water. Meanwhile, in saute pan over
high heat, toast star anise and white and black peppercorns. Bring
syrup mixture to boil, then pour over spices in saute pan. Remove
from heat. Stir in zests, juices, cinchona powder, citric acid and
salt. Cover and steep 30 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth-lined
fine-mesh sleve. Let cool.

For the tonic water:
Combine tonic water base and water. Place in soda siphon and charge
with one cartridge CO2.

Political Potable

The history of tonic water begins in 17th, century Peru when Spanish colonists discovered a treatment for malaria in the bark of the quinaquina tree. One account insists that the Countess of Chinchon, the Peruvian viceroy's wife, took the bark to Spain around 1640 after it saved her from malaria. Another proposes that a Jesuit missionary named Barnabe de Cobo made the first trans-Atlantic delivery in 1632. Whichever the case may be, the ground bark became known as both "Countess's powder" and "Jesuit's powder" throughout Europe. In the 18th century Carolus Linnaeus chose to classify the quinaquina tree as genus "cinchona" in honor of the legendary lady.

In 1817 French scientists Pelletier and Caventou found a method for extracting the bark's most medically powerful compound, quinine. They quickly established a factory to produce it, and sold the drug as a means of preventing malaria. As early as 1825 British officers in India devised a way to make their bitter, daily dose more pleasurable. They combined it with sold water, sugar, lime and gin, inventing a potent precursor to the classic gin-and-tonic. Bottles of sweetened quinine water soon appeared, to be drunk with or without the alcohol. Carbonated tonic water was introduced towards the end of the 19th century.

With many colonies in malaria-prone areas, the British and the Dutch needed large quantities of quinine. Over-harvesting brought cinchona trees to the brink of extinction, and quinine became as valuable as gold. Eager to find a way to supply their own demand, both the British and the Dutch smuggled cinchona seeds out of South America in the mid-19th century. The Dutch, however, proved more adept at cultivating the trees. By World War l, the Dutch nearly monopolized the quinine trade from their plantations in Java.

During World War II, the Japanese occupied Java, creating a need among Allied nations for a new source of quinine. Cinchona trees were planted in Africa while scientists tried to create a synthetic variety. Both initiatives were successful: today most natural quinine comes from Africa, while some prescription quinine is synthetic.

Sweet, Bitter Medicine

Tonic water has become much less therapeutic over the years. When it was first produced for medicinal use, it contained a prescription dose of quinine too large for casual drinking. Today, by law, tonic water must contain less than one-tenth of a gram of quinine per liter. However, even in small amounts, quinine is thought to be beneficial in stimulating digestion and easing muscle cramps. On the other hand, excessive quinine intake can cause side effects collectively known as "cinchonism." Cinchonism symptoms include headache, nausea, ringing in the ears, and, in more extreme cases, loss of hearing and vision. In very high doses-between two to eight grams--quinine can be fatal.

By the 1980s, soft drink companies began sweetening soda and tonic water with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a controversial, highly processed sugar derived from cornstarch. In recent years, HFCS has been causing various degrees of concern among health-conscious consumers.

For cocktail aficionados it is taboo, a substance believed to overpower the subtleties of top-shelf liquors. That's just one of the reasons mixologist Greg Best, of Atlanta's Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch Public House insists on making his own tonic water, "High fructose corn syrup is not only detrimental to your health, it also gives you a hell of a hangover," he explains. Gin, he contends, is often unfairly blamed for the headache. "It's not the gin. It's that 99% of people drink gin with [HFCS-sweetened] tonic, which has three times as much sugar as any fruit juice."

Best also makes his own, out of love for the art of drink-making. "I wanted to get as close to the original style of what tonic would have tasted like," he says. "Based on the sugar they were using in the early 1900s, there's just no way it tasted like what we know as "tonic" today. I wanted to examine the different permutations of what it could taste like." Homemade tonic is still pleasantly bitter, but much less sweet, and lower in calories. As cocktail mixers, they allow the flavor profile of the gin to come through. "Any of the aromatic gins really show their stuff with home-made tonic. You can really sense a lot more of the floral characteristics of the gin, and the different herbs, roots and spices, rather than just that juniper taste," he explains.

Homemade tonic has been so well received that tonic-based cocktails are enjoying a revival. "Initially everyone was freaked out," Best recalls. "It was the same time that everybody was freaked out that nothing was coming out of bottles they recognized. But once people started taking that leap of faith, it caught on like wildfire." Today, house-made tonic is a staple at Best's bars, because his customers have come to expect it.

Included here are tonic recipes from Best, and Jerry Slater of the Oak Room, in Louisville, Kentucky. Note that for homemade tonic, ground cinchona bark is used to achieve a quinine flavor because it is much less potent than pharmaceutical-grade quinine.

Much like bitters, tonic water has recently been enjoying renewed attention from cocktail purists interested in tasting history, living an all-natural lifestyle, and making drinks from scratch.
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Publication:Art Culinaire
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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