There’s a good chance that you’ve been sitting around on night with your friends and family enjoying a few gin and tonics when the question has hit. You’ve already refreshed yourself on What is Gin? and The Three Ways to Make Gin, but that only answers half of your query. What are you mixing it with? What IS tonic water, anyway?

Put simply, it is carbonated water that has quinine dissolved into it, but there’s a lot more than that. Historically seen as a way to immunise against malaria due to the quinine component, tonic is most often used as a mixer paired with gin (some even thought that the gin was actually the part that helped you!). Whilst traditionally consumed for its bitter flavour, there are a large number of sweet tonics that are being released, typically using citrus as a sweetener.

Quinine is sourced by boiling chopped pieces of bark from the cinchona (pronounced sin-ko-nah) tree. This is the only source of natural quinine and it is crucial not to add too much as it can be toxic in high quantities. The water is brought to a simmer and left for 15-30 minutes until the syrup becomes thinner in consistency.

To infuse more flavours, it is as simple as adding extra ingredients! Whilst typically added at the same time as the cinchona bark, here you can be experimental. You can add it pre boil, whilst boiling, whilst it is simmering or any combination of the three. The flavours will vary depending on what you add and when you add it, becoming less in line with a traditional tonic water when stronger citrus flavours are evident.

It will naturally depend on your taste preferences, but a good tonic needs to be subtle so it doesn’t overpower the flavour of your gin. When we mix drinks with our gin, we recommend a tonic/soda water combo as the mixture to enable the flavours of our gin really shine through. 

So if tonic is full of quinine, why doesn’t it save you from malaria? Firstly, quinine is no longer considered the most effective method of treating malaria so it is no longer the first primary treatment (artesunate has proven more effective and since 2006, has been the recommendation of the World Health Organisation) [2]. If the WHO recommendation was ignored and the use of quinine was still desired, it all comes down to the content required.   

Plasmodium Falciparum is the causative agent of malignant malaria [3]. When fighting “uncomplicated” Plasmodium Falciparum (the simple form that is not resistant to other treatments), Quinine (Rx) (better known as Qulaquin) is used. These are quinine sulphate capsules and a recommended dose of 648mg every 8 hours for 7 days is required [4].

Put more simply, this means that you need 1,944mg of quinine per day. This should be easy, right? It’s just under 2 grams, after all… When we mix our gins with tonic, we use the Capi Native Tonic. This tonic comes in 250ml bottles and the quinine content is 0.05%. In order to get to 2 grams of quinine, you’d need to drink 16 bottles of the tonic water.

When it comes down to it, tonic water in its simplest form is just water that has been flavoured using quinine. Whilst it’s important to get a good quality tonic water, it’s critical to ensure you’re pairing it with a great tasting gin to create the perfect combo.



[1] McLagan, J (2016), Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes. https://books.google.com.au/books/about/Bitter.html?id=sX8oAwAAQBAJ&redir_esc=y

[2] Dondorp, A. M., Fanello, C. I., Hendriksen, I. C., Gomes, E., Seni, A., Chhaganlal, K. D., … & Kivaya, E. (2010). Artesunate versus quinine in the treatment of severe falciparum malaria in African children (AQUAMAT): an open-label, randomised trial. The Lancet, 376(9753), 1647-1657. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61924-1

[3] Rich, S. M., Leendertz, F. H., Xu, G., LeBreton, M., Djoko, C. F., Aminake, M. N., … & Formenty, P. (2009). The origin of malignant malaria. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(35), 14902-14907.https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0907740106

[4] Medscape, quinine (Rx), https://reference.medscape.com/drug/qualaquin-quinine-342696

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