Make Your Own No-Proof 'Spirit' With Flat Tonic Water

Photo: Claire Lower

When I first heard I would be spending all this time at home, I envisioned nightly cocktail hours in the bath, lots of reading, and a sparkling clean apartment. But in what scientists are calling “predictable,” none of that has really come to pass.

I have read some and my apartment is fine, but I’ve only been managing about one or two cocktails a week, mainly because my sensitive brain simply cannot handle too much negativity, and—I don’t know if you’re aware of this—alcohol is a depressant. (“Try pot,” you say? HA. Have you met my anxiety?)

Anyway. Despite a full bar cart, I have mostly been drinking litres of Diet Coke and lots of fresh-squeezed lemonade (made with berry honey!), but I often crave a more complex sipper, particularly for enjoying in the tub. One might think now would be the hour I turn to Seedlip, except I already threw it away because it offended me on a visceral level, and have since been toying with the idea of DIY-ing my very own booze-free spirit substitute.

If you will recall the Seedlip taste test, the general consensus was that the product did not have much flavour on its own and that really good tonic water was more satisfying. In fact, when mixed with Seedlip, it was the tonic that gave the mocktail its backbone, not the faux spirit. Later, when I was discussing this with my friend Dan—you guys know Dan—he suggested that “flat Fever-Tree” would make a better base for mocktails, and he was absolutely correct.

Of course, I had to make modifications. Just as I had used my immersion circulation to make actual gin, I decided to use it to make fake gin, with tonic providing body (thanks sugar) and bitterness (thanks quinine), and juniper berries providing that iconic gin flavour.

It is, of course, adaptable to suit your botanical preferences (and what you have in your pantry). I used juniper, black peppercorns, lemon peel, and bay leaves, but you could add cardamom, star anise, lavender, or whatever plant parts you desire. I like a base ratio of equal parts (four ounces each) of tonic and water, but you can back off the tonic a couple ounces and increase the water if that’s too much quinine. Throw it all in a bag, and set in an 178-degree water bath for a mere 15 minutes. If you have any flower waters (like rose or orange blossom) add those to taste after the infusions step is done.

To make it, you will need:

  • 120mL good tonic water, flat (you can pour some in a glass and stir it to drive off the gas)

  • 120mL water

  • 20 dried juniper berries

  • 8 black peppercorns

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 strip lemon zest

  • 1 bar spoon rose water (optional)

Using a precision cooker, bring your a water bath to 80 degrees C. Add everything except the rose water to a sous-vide or freezer bag and clip the end over the side. Let the liquid infuse for 15 minutes, then strain into a jar or bottle, add the rose water, and set that bottle in the fridge or an ice bath to chill. (If you don’t have a sous-vide setup, you can chuck it all in a jar and let it infuse slowly for a few days. Just take a little taste and strain when it’s as flavourful as you want it.)

Once it’s chilled, you can enjoy it over ice, with a little soda, or in a mocktail. (60mL of fake gin with one ounce of fresh lemon juice and 20mL of honey syrup is good.) I’ve been sipping it straight, because I really, really love the taste of juniper.


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