The Toronto is a classic cocktail that’s a favorite among whiskey lovers, with a rich history that dates back to the early 1920s. The Toronto cocktail is a combination of rye whiskey, Fernet-Branca, simple syrup, and aromatic bitters. It’s a well-balanced drink that’s both dry and mildly bitter, making it perfect for slow sipping over good conversation.
While it’s named after the Canadian city of Toronto, it’s unclear if the drink was actually invented there or just named after the city. Regardless, the Toronto cocktail has become a staple in many cocktail bars around the world. If you’re looking to try this cocktail for yourself, there are many cocktail bars in Toronto that serve it, as well as craft breweries that offer their own unique twist on the classic recipe.
The Toronto cocktail has a rich history that dates back to the pre-Prohibition era. It is believed that the cocktail originated in Toronto, Canada, during the early 1900s when the city’s Italian population was on the rise. They would have brought the Fernet-Branca liqueur, a key ingredient in the cocktail, with them when they immigrated to Canada.
The cocktail was first recorded as the Fernet Cocktail in Robert Vermeire’s 1922 edition of Cocktails: How to Mix Them. In subsequent books, including David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, the recipe was named the Toronto, as it’s known today. Vermeire stated that the “cocktail is much appreciated by the Canadians of Toronto.”
The Toronto cocktail gained popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, especially during the Prohibition era in the United States. Many Americans would travel to Ontario, Canada, to enjoy alcoholic beverages, including the Toronto cocktail.
By 1930, the drink was featured as the Toronto Cocktail in the Cocktail Bill Boothby’s World Drinks and How to Mix Them by William Boothby. The cocktail’s recipe by Boothby and Vermeire both featured equal measures of Fernet-Branca and rye whiskey.
How to Make It
- 2 ounces Canadian rye whiskey
- ¼ ounce simple syrup
- ¼ ounce Fernet-Branca
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- Garnish: maraschino cherry or orange twist
- Fill a mixing glass with ice.
- Add 2 ounces of Canadian rye whiskey, 1/4 ounce of Fernet-Branca, 1/4 ounce of simple syrup, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters to the mixing glass.
- Stir the ingredients until they are well-chilled.
- Strain the mixture into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Squeeze a piece of orange peel over the drink and use it as garnish.
If you want to adjust the recipe to your taste, you can experiment with different types of bitters, such as grapefruit or orange bitters. You can also use maple syrup instead of simple syrup to add a different flavor profile to the drink.
When making a Toronto cocktail, it is important to use the right type of whiskey. Canadian rye whiskey is the traditional choice, but you can also use a rye whiskey from another region. The whiskey should be at least 80 proof to stand up to the other flavors in the drink.
Fernet-Branca is a type of Italian bitter that is essential to the flavor of the Toronto cocktail. It has a strong, bitter taste that balances out the sweetness of the simple syrup. If you are not a fan of bitter drinks, you may want to try a different cocktail.
To stir the ingredients, you can use a spoon or a cocktail stirrer. Make sure to stir the mixture for at least 20 seconds to ensure that the flavors are well-combined.
When straining the mixture, you can use a coupe glass or a rocks glass, depending on your preference. A coupe glass will give the drink a more elegant look, while a rocks glass will make it easier to hold.
The Toronto cocktail is a versatile drink that can be modified in many ways to suit your taste. Here are some variations to try:
Swap out the Fernet Branca for Campari to give the cocktail a bitter orange flavor. This variation is also known as a “Toronto #2.”
Replace the rye whiskey with tequila for a Mexican twist on the cocktail. This variation is sometimes called a “Tijuana.”
Moscow Mule Toronto
Add ginger beer and lime juice to the Toronto cocktail for a refreshing twist. This variation is also known as a “Toronto Mule.”
Hanky Panky Toronto
Add sweet vermouth and gin to the Toronto cocktail for a more complex flavor. This variation is sometimes called a “Toronto Hanky Panky.”
Swap out the rye whiskey for gin and add sweet vermouth and Campari for a classic Negroni flavor with a Canadian twist.
Jamie Boudreau’s Toronto
Add a dash of orange bitters and garnish with an orange peel for a variation created by Seattle bartender Jamie Boudreau.
Replace the rye whiskey with cognac brandy for a smoother, richer taste.
Canadian Club Toronto
Use Canadian whisky instead of rye whiskey for a more mellow flavor.
Swap out the rye whiskey for mezcal for a smoky, earthy flavor.
Replace the rye whiskey with rum for a Caribbean twist on the cocktail.
Add cola to the Toronto cocktail for a Spanish-inspired variation known as a “Kalimotxo Toronto.”
Mother’s Ruin Toronto
Add gin to the Toronto cocktail for a variation known as a “Mother’s Ruin Toronto.”
Replace the rye whiskey with brandy for a sweeter, fruitier flavor.