Homemade Tonic Water and Mick Jagger

Cocktail Lab met again this past Friday, the gang of four women that concoct the heavenly cocktail recipes reported in this blog.  For this occasion I attempted to make homemade tonic water.  I had most of the ingredients for a recipe I'd read about over the winter and was able to cobble together the remaining ingredients.

The natural source of quinine is cinchona bark, a plant native to the tropical Andes and western South America, which I bought in it's powdered form from Dandelion Botanical Company.  According to Wikpedia, "The medicinal properties of the cinchona tree were originally discovered by the Quecua peoples of Peru and Bolivia, and long cultivated by them as a muscle relaxant to halt shivering due to low temperatures. The Jesuit Brother Agostino Salumbrino (1561–1642), an apothecary by training and who lived in Lima, observed the Quechua using the quinine-containing bark of the cinchona tree for that purpose. While its effect in treating malaria (and hence malaria-induced shivering) was entirely unrelated to its effect in controlling shivering from cold, it was nevertheless the correct medicine for malaria. The use of the “fever tree” bark was introduced into European medicine by Jesuit missionaries (Jesuit's bark). Jesuit Barnabé de Cobo (1582–1657), who explored Mexico and Peru, is credited with taking cinchona bark to Europe. He brought the bark from Lima to Spain, and afterwards to Rome and other parts of Italy, in 1632. After Spanish colonization of the Americas, the Jesuit missionaries were the first to bring the Jesuit's bark cinchona compound to Europe in 1632."

The recipe called for a stalk of lemongrass which I was unable to find.  In it's stead I dipped a toothpick in lemongrass oil and swirled it around in the pot.  A drop would have been too much so in this way I was better able to control the amount used.  Another option would have been to dilute the oil in alcohol and use that by the drop.

The recipe also called for citric acid which I didn't have but after looking around the internet I learned that lemon juice is often substituted for it.

Homemade Tonic Water

1 lemon
1 lime
2 cups of water
2 teaspoons of cinchona bark
1 1/4 teaspoons citric acid (or the juice of one lemon)
1 stalk lemongrass (or a toothpick dipped in lemongrass oil)
1 1/2 cups sugar

Zest the lemon and lime and place in a saucepan, making sure not to include the bitter pith.  Juice lemon and lime and add juice to saucepan, along with water, cinchona bark, citric acid powder, lemongrass, and sugar. Bring to a boil on high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let mixture steep for 20 minutes.  Allow the mixture to cool and strain through paper coffee filters.  If I'd known better I would have bought the bark in it's raw rather than powdered form to make it easier to filter.  Prepare to wait about eight hours for it to completely filter.  Put in a clean glass jar or bottle and refrigerate.  It makes about a cup and a half of syrup.  The ratio for creating the tonic water is one part tonic syrup to four parts carbonated water.

The day we met was the occasion of the 70th birthday of the premier frontman of rock and roll, Mick Jagger.  I heard on the news that day that Mick keeps in shape with yoga and pilates, runs sprints, dances as much as he can and goes to bed early - 2am.  I think Mick owes much of his success (besides paring with Keith) to the fact that he never really overdid it.  He never became a drunk or a drug addict, never over-indulged.  I read in Pattie Boyd's lovely memoir, "Wonderful Tonight", that after a particularly wild party at Friar Park (the estate she shared with George Harrison) she woke up the next morning, hungover and bleary, to find Mick up washing the dishes before he headed out for a run.

In this spirit we've created a drink deserving of Sir Mick - something not too potent and particularly refreshing on a hot summer eve.

The Mick Jagger

3 ounces tonic syrup
2 ounces grapefruit flavored vodka
12 ounces seltzer

Grapefruit vodka is pretty easy to make.  Simply zest the rind of a pink grapefruit and add to two cups of plain vodka, let sit one month and strain.

By the way, the very next night I made up a batch to bring to the Prospect Park bandshell to see another premier frontman of classic rock, Robert Plant.  Mr. Plant is another that maintained his composure during the turbulant 60's and 70's and has the pipes to prove it.  Bravo!

The Bitters Experiment

After macerating for over six weeks I finally decanted my bitters and have been enjoying them in seltzer and cocktails.  I recently had a delicious Manhattan using Woodland Bitters, the brew adding a woodsy complexity to the libation.  I think the Cherry Hazelnut are my favorite and I look forward to another Manhattan using it.

Cherry Hazelnut Bitters

1/2 cup lightly toasted and skinned hazelnuts
1/2 cup dried tart or sour cherries
2 tablespoons devil's club root
1/2 teaspoon schizandra berries
1/2 teaspoon wild cherry bark
1/2 teaspoon cinchona bark
1/2 teaspoon cassia chips
1/4 teaspoon chopped dried orange peel
3 star anise
2 cups 101-proof bourbon, or more as needed

Macerate six weeks and decant.   The original recipe (taken from Brad Thomas Parsons wonderful book, "Bitters") suggests decanting after two weeks and retaining the solids to be boiled in one cup of water over high heat and returning the filtered water into the original brew.  He also suggests adding 2 tablespoons of rich syrup.  I found these extra steps tedious so just left it to macerate longer and I'm quite happy with the results.

Making Bitters

Edible Brooklyn, in their recent alcohol issue, said that everyone in Brooklyn has to make bitters, it's one of the rules.  It's true that I know an inordinate amount of people who make bitters (and beer, mead, hot sauce, play the ukelele, the accordion, etc.).  Bitters are a Very Big Thing in these parts and they're taken very seriously.

Traditionally they're considered medicine and used as a digestive tonic for the occasional upset of overeating.  In the Victorian era they found their way into cocktails.  Once the Manhattan was invented they were assured their place in every bartender's arsenal.

After doing a bit of research online I found a few recipes I wanted to try.  I was recommended to try the Dandelion Botanical Company for my bittering herbs and flavoring agents (I would also recommend Mountain Rose Herbs).  My intention was to follow a few recipes and then continue to experiment on my own.  The primary bittering herb is gentian root, the stuff that made Angostura so famous.  I also purchased chinchona bark, the principal ingredient in creating tonic water (another experiment for later), sarasparilla, devil's club root, black walnut leaf and wild cherry bark.  (The catalog had other things I just couldn't resist ordering including sandalwood powder, patchouli leaf and osmanthus flowers - yet another project).

The recipe I settled on, amongst others, was Woodland Bitters.  I loved the idea of the earthy devil's club root with wild cherry bark and toasted nuts.  I also made a classic Angostura style bitters as well as Cherry Hazelnut Bitters.  If I didn't think I'd be inundated with bitters for the rest of my life I'd be experimenting with many variations (figs, citrus, cranberry, wormwood, etc.), and it's nowhere near Christmas where I could at least hand them out as presents.

              Woodland Bitters
  1. 2 cups overproof bourbon (such as Wild Turkey 101)
  2. 1 cup pecans, toasted
  3. 1 cup walnuts, toasted
  4. 4 cloves
  5. Two 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  6. 1 whole nutmeg, cracked
  7. 1 vanilla bean, split
  8. 2 tablespoons devil's club root
  9. 1 tablespoon cinchona bark
  10. 1 tablespoon chopped black walnut leaf
  11. 1 tablespoon wild cherry bark
  12. 1/2 teaspoon cassia chips
  13. 1/2 teaspoon gentian root
  14. 1/2 teaspoon sarsaparilla root
  15. 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  1. In a 1-quart glass jar, combine all of the ingredients except the syrup. Cover and shake well. Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, shaking the jar daily.
  2. Strain the infused alcohol into a clean 1-quart glass jar through a cheesecloth-lined funnel. Squeeze any infused alcohol from the cheesecloth into the jar; reserve the solids. Strain the infused alcohol again through new cheesecloth into another clean jar to remove any remaining sediment. Cover the jar and set aside for 1 week.
  3. Meanwhile, transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes; let cool completely. Pour the liquid and solids into a clean 1-quart glass jar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 week, shaking the jar once daily.
  4. Strain the water mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel set over a clean 1-quart glass jar; discard the solids. If necessary, strain again to remove any remaining sediment. Add the infused alcohol and the syrup. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 3 days. Pour the bitters through a cheesecloth-lined funnel or strainer and transfer to glass dasher bottles. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place.
So far my bitters have been aging for a little over four weeks.  I think I'll skip parts 3 and 4 and just let them macerate for four weeks and strain thoroughly before adding a bit of water and maple syrup.