Homemade Gin and Tonic in the Alley

The two homemade tonics, which are darker than storebought tonic.

Elizabeth has a wonderful relationship with all of her neighbors here in Seattle. They’ve been in the habit, for many years, of gathering together for dinners, happy hours, parties, and all kinds of occasions, both planned and impromptu. Of course, that went out the window with the pandemic.

One late afternoon, Lisa, one of the neighbors, used sidewalk chalk and a tape measure to plot out six feet between “drink stations”, so that quaranteams from three households could gather in the back alley between the houses and visit over cocktails.

The occasion was a socially-distanced get-together, but there was another purpose too: Mike, another neighbor, wanted us to sample his homemade tonic. This was the first step to enjoying what some think of as perhaps the ultimate summer cocktail. I speak of the Gin and Tonic, of course.

Mike carefully researched how to make tonic and created two versions for our sampling pleasure. He’s a retired scientist and botanist, so he brought his eye for experimentation to this pandemic project.

The main ingredient is Cinchona Bark, which he boiled with water and citric acid, then steeped for several days, then filtered. Being the scientist that he is, he carefully noted what he did differently between the two versions, but those details are lost to me now…in Happy Hour mode, I listened as if it were a story, rather than paying strict attention, or writing down his steps. I know that he remembers though, if called upon to do so!

I do remember that one batch was relatively sweeter, and the other, just a little more bitter.

The homemade tonics were a surprising and remarkable brown color! You can see above that one is darker than the other, too.

Of course, besides tasting the two tonics (and two gins) our conversation turned to the origins of the Gin and Tonic. Although Cinchona Bark hails from South America, it was introduced to India in the mid-19th century. Because Quinidine, one of the compounds within the bark, provided some defense against malaria – a tonic, you see – the Gin and Tonic became a favorite of British immigrants living in India, because of the mosquitoes that thrived in the hot climate.

Now, quinine is still an ingredient in some tonics that you can buy in the store, but we congratulated ourselves that our Gins and Tonic (Gin and Tonics?) were probably the closest to the original inventions that we could ever come. Elizabeth and I’d had Gin and Tonic in India, back in January, but they had the familiar look and taste.

Besides the more opaque color, the homemade tonic definitely imparted a different flavor. There was certainly a richer, more complex taste, compared to the commercial Gin and Tonic that I know and love. For me, I found myself thinking that the clean, light taste of the more conventional Gin and Tonic really is suited to refresh on a hot summer day. The store-bought tonic, being simpler, is an easy choice in hot weather, when you can’t think too much or too deeply. Of course, that’s not such a concern here in Seattle, because of our moderate summers. Maybe, with even more practice, I could acquire more of a taste for the homemade tonic!

As for the Happy Hour itself, this was the first social engagement of the pandemic, and it was fun!


  • 4 oz. Gin

  • 4 oz. Mike’s Homemade Tonic

  • Limes


  • Have Mike do all the work, then regale you with the tale over cocktails!
  • Cheers!
Enjoyed on July 30


  1. Lisa11/19/2020 | Reply

    Aaaahhhh. Those were the days.

    • admin11/19/2020 | Reply

      Yes! Yes, they were :)

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