Ginning Up The Joint - Lightly Toasted: Chronicles of the Friday Night Cocktail Club Blog at - 157427

Lightly Toasted: Chronicles of the Friday Night Cocktail Club

ginning up the joint 
Feb. 14, 2010 12:29 pm 
Updated: Feb. 18, 2010 10:28 am
Any noxious stench emanating from Capitol Hill over the weekend was probably only coincidental to the cinchona bark boilin’up in my kitchen. I was in mad-scientist mode, you see; preparing homemade tonic syrup for some seasonally inappropriate gin and tonics. Probably the smell will come out of the drapes. 

If you’re much into G&Ts, you’ll recall that during England’s colonial days in India, British soldiers took quinine to fend off malaria. Tonic water, which the English patented in the mid-1800s, became the preferred vehicle for getting malaria-fighting quinine into British bellies. And gin, as it happened, with its robust juniper flavor, proved the perfect tool for making a bitter quinine cocktail quaffable. Gin was the funky yin to quinine’s foul-flavored yang. It was a case of two somewhat disgusting things coming together to create something surprisingly excellent! [See also, the martini.]

For such a simple drink (gin, tonic water, lime), the G&T sure has a fascinating history. For example, although the British popularized tonic in India, cinchona bark, from which we derive the quinine, actually originates in Peru and Bolivia. Centuries before Europeans pulled their galleons alongside South America, Quechua Indians were already enjoying the medicinal benefits of cinchona bark. They boiled it and mixed it with water and sweetened it to create the world’s first tonic water.

Jesuits were the first to haul cinchona to Europe, where it was also used as medicine. Besides being anti-malarial, quinine is (as described in Wikipedia) a fever reducer, a painkiller, a muscle relaxant, and an anti-inflammatory drug. Wiki also notes that it is used to treat lupus, night-time leg cramps, and arthritis. That’s quite a resume.

Gin, surprisingly, was also created originally as a medicine, specifically as a cure for kidney ailments, which I find unusual, since after a couple drinks of gin, my kidneys feel like they’ve been whacked with a ball-peen hammer.

But the bottom line here: Put gin and tonic together, add a generous squeeze of lime, and you have yourself a magic elixir: okay, it may not actually cure the above ailments, but if you’re in Seattle and you haven’t seen the sun for a while, or you’re out East (or even in Texas!) buried under a pile of snow, it’s like a little taste of summer sunshine, a surefire cure for the winter blahs.

And now, the verdict:  Once the cinchona powder is boiled with water, sugar, citric acid, lime juice and lime zest, and lemon grass, and allowed to cool, and is then filtered and refiltered and filtered again (wow, that cinchona is gritty), the resulting syrup looks kind of like sarsaparilla and smells like a strong-scented, fruity cola (nice!). I measure out about a half ounce of tonic syrup for every 2 ounces of gin, and then top it off with soda water and a generous squeeze of lime. And the gin, boy the gin really renders the bitter into something wonderful. I can see how on a hot day, this concoction will be perfectly craveworthy. So far, I’ve enjoyed it with Aviation Gin and Tanquerey, and I prefer Aviation. But more experimentation to follow...

[Note: The recipe I used comes from Kevin Ludwig’s (of Beaker & Flask in Portland, OR) recipe, which appeared in Imbibe.]

UPDATE (2/15/10):  so okay, here's the recipe adapted from Kevin Ludwig's recipe in Imbibe (you can also find his article saved in my Recipe box.): Here's the recipe: cook 3 cups of sugar in 4 cups of water until dissolved. Add 3 tablespoons of powdered cinchona bark, 6 tbspn citric acid (in powder form), the juice and zest of 3 limes, and several stalks of lemongrass (chopped up to fit in your saucepan). Cook it for about a half hour. Then cool, and strain it repeatedly through coffee filters or cheese cloth into bottles and store in the fridge.

If you make a batch of the syrup, try it with Dry Soda's Juniper Berry Soda (if you can find it) instead of regular soda water.  Enjoy!
simmering the cinchona
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the fixin's
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magic elixir
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Feb. 14, 2010 5:28 pm
I can personally attest to the magic elixeriness of that awesome syrup. A very enjoyable yet odd body buzz ensued. YUM! Who would've thought that G&Ts would fit so well into a February day in Seattle? So, do we get the actual cooked cinchona syrup recipe, Mr. Allrecipes?!
Feb. 15, 2010 5:40 pm
howdy wilson! If you make a batch, try the tonic syrup with Dry Soda's Juniper Berry Soda instead of regular soda water! it's even better. Here's the recipe adapted from Kevin Ludwig's in Imbibe (you can also find his article saved in my Recipe box.): Here's the recipe: cook 3 cups of sugar in 4 cups of water until dissolved. Add 3 tablespoons of powdered cinchona bark, 6 tbspn citric acid (in powder), the juice and zest of 3 limes, and several stalks of lemongrass (chopped to fit in your saucepan). Cook it for about a half hour. Then cool, and strain it repeatedly through coffee filters or cheese cloth. Thanks!
Feb. 16, 2010 7:56 am
Another great blog! Where would one get cinchona? We drink a lot of gin and tonics here (it's always summer), but we also use gin on our skin to keep the mosquitos away!
Feb. 16, 2010 5:33 pm
Wow, I've never heard of using gin to keep the mosquitos away! I bet that does the trick, though. I found my powdered cinchona at an Asian herb store. I think it's available online, too, if you search for quinine powder (or red cinchona). Good luck -- I think you'll notice a real difference in flavor! Thanks
Feb. 16, 2010 5:44 pm
Barbara, you truly have to try this, it puts bottled tonic water to shame! Hmm, wondering if I should lug some gin along for bug control when hiking this summer... LI, that Dry Soda 'pairing' sounds really good but does it not end up too junipery w/the gin? Not that I'm anti-junipery or anything ;-)
Feb. 18, 2010 10:28 am
On a side note, I just read in the paper that scientists have determined King Tut died from malaria. Too bad for the young king there were no G&T's in ancient Egypt.
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About Me
My wife and I and our two devilish kittens live on Capitol Hill in Seattle. A few years ago, I got a masters in gastronomy. I'm a food/wine writer. I’m also blogging about cocktails.
My favorite things to cook
We cook fairly simple dishes using fresh local ingredients that we pick up at the Seattle farmers market. My favorite thing is making a nice slow-braised or long-roasted something on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I like cooking with wine (in the dish and in the glass...and in the cook).
My favorite family cooking traditions
My mom never liked to cook, but she did well despite herself. Her mother, my omi, was from Munich and made delicious rouladen, sauerbraten and other traditional German and American dishes. Always bins and bins of home-baked cookies at Christmas. Wonderful rye bread. And beer. Opa would say, "Brotzeit ist die beste zeit."
My cooking triumphs
We’ve made the signature timpano dish from The Big Night a couple times. And for Thanksgiving 2007, we made Turducken. My wife and I are always volunteering to cook the big holiday meals with the family. We mix a signature cocktail, and get down to it.
My cooking tragedies
I made Thanksgiving Dinner for myself once when I was snowed-in in Denver. I nearly burned down the neighborhood.
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