The Toronto is a little-known cocktail. Unlike its higher-profile cousins named after cities – the Manhattan, the Singapore Sling, the Moscow Mule – the Toronto is not found on many bar menus outside its namesake metropolis. That is a shame because this rich, dry cocktail with a slightly bitter bite is a fantastic drink.
About the Toronto Cocktail
The origin of the Toronto is a bit of a mystery. It seems unlikely that it actually originated in Toronto unless it was created before World War I since Canadian Prohibition was in effect from that point forward.
It is possible that the drink was created before Prohibition when Toronto experienced a boom in its Italian population since Fernet-Branca, one of the drink’s signature ingredients, is an Italian product.
Fernet-Branca is an intensely bitter digestivo made from a secret list of ingredients, including rhubarb, chamomile, cinnamon, saffron, and myrrh. Fernet’s bitterness is balanced out in the Toronto by sugar and whisky.
The Toronto first shows up in print in 1922 in Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails and How to Mix Them. Vermeire, a London bar-owner, refers to the drink as a Fernet Cocktail and observes that “this cocktail is much appreciated by the Canadians of Toronto.”
The Vermeire recipe consists of Fernet, cognac or rye whiskey, sugar or gum syrup, Angostura bitters, and a lemon peel garnish.
Twenty-six years later, the Toronto picked up its current name in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury. Embury’s recipe substituted Canadian whiskey for cognac, which could be the rationale for the cocktail’s name. Other than the addition of rye, the Toronto’s current form retains Embury’s classic formula.
There is some disagreement over whether the Toronto is a modification of the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned. Some cocktail aficionados claim that the Toronto simply adds Fernet-Branca to the traditional Old Fashioned recipe. Others swear that the fernet is exchanged for the sweet vermouth in the Manhattan.
Several bars in Toronto include the city’s namesake drink on their menus. Monarch Tavern and Chantecler in Parkdale both feature the drink, and Rush Lane even offers the cocktail on tap.
Outside of Toronto, however, enthusiasts may have trouble finding this drink on many cocktail menus. It is considered a “call drink” – a drink that may not be on the menu but that most competent bartenders should know how to make, assuming they stock Fernet-Branca.
- 2 ounces Canadian rye whiskey
- ¼ ounce simple syrup
- ¼ ounce Fernet-Branca
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Garnish: maraschino cherry or orange twist
- Combine Canadian rye whiskey, simple syrup, Fernet-Branca, and Angostura bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice.
- Stir for sixty seconds.
- Strain into a chilled coupe glass or on the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass.
- Garnish with an orange twist or maraschino cherry.
Whether you are spending an evening out in the Big Smoke or just want to make a Canadian-themed cocktail from the warmth of your own home, the Toronto is an excellent drink to order or mix.
With its sweet/bitter balance and robust and dry flavor, this near cousin of the Old Fashioned and Manhattan is the perfect drink to add to your mixing repertoire.