The Toronto Cocktail, classic and beloved, feels a lot like an open secret in the mixology world. This cocktail has been around since the 20s. Robert Vermeire, a bartender based out of London, England, included the earliest known recipe for the Toronto cocktail in his 1922 book Cocktails: How to Mix Them. This technically categorizes the Toronto as a prohibition-era cocktail, as Ontario was under prohibition from 1916-1927.
Although Canada Day is long over, the Toronto International Film Festival is right around the corner. The Toronto Cocktail is the perfect addition to all those glitzy red carpet events.
The Toronto Cocktail
2 oz of Canadian Whisky
0.25 oz of Fernet-Branca
0.25 oz of Simple Syrup
2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters
Garnish: Orange Peel
Method: Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir, and strain into a coupe. Express the orange peel over the glass, run it around the rim, and drop it in.
These ingredients call to mind the multi-cultural Toronto we know. This includes Fernet-Branca from Italy, oranges from California, Angostura bitters from Trinidad and Tobago, and of course Canadian-made whisky. Obviously any Canadian whisky will do, rye or otherwise, but some careful shopping will give you something more Toronto-centric. If you want to take your Toronto Cocktail to the next level here’s a list of Toronto-made whiskies.
Gooderham and Worts
Grains: Blend of corn, rye, wheat, and barley
From: Corby Spirit and Wine Limited
Available in: 750 ml at the LCBO
This is my first choice for a Toronto Cocktail, as the original Gooderham and Worts distillery became what is now Toronto’s Distillery District. The distillery was closed down in the early 1990s. Corby Ltd. now owns the Gooderham and Worts property, and recently brought back the famed whisky. Dr. Don Livermore, best known as the Master Blender for J.P. Wiser’s, used his skills to produce the Gooderham and Worts currently found at the LCBO.
The sweetness of vanilla and caramel really stand out in this whisky, along with notes of floral and stone fruit. This whisky is full-bodied, and can stand up to the complex, medicinal flavour of the Fernet-Branca amaro.
Dillon’s Rye Whisky
Grains: 100% Ontario Rye
From: Dillon’s Distillery
Available in: 500 ml from Dillon’s or the LCBO
Canada has notorious reputation for rye whisky. This assumption of what’s in our grain mash comes from the history of Canadians sending barrels of rye spirit down to the U.S. during prohibition. Dillon’s first came on the scene for their gin, but have been hinting to production of a rye whisky since they first released their White Rye in 2013.
Tasting notes include ripe peaches on the nose, along with vegetal elements. Since it’s all rye grain, expect it to be heavy on the spice with some minerals. The rye profile is complemented with flavours of Canadian oak tannins. The Batch 2 version, which is currently on the shelves, is aged in three different oak casks.
Toronto Distillery Co.
If you’re looking for something a little more independent, and a little more unique, Toronto Distillery Co. is your best bet. The small batch distillers first opened in 2012 in the Junction. According to their website, they produced a variety of whiskies while utilizing, “Ontario’s agricultural bounty.” The distillery made three types: First Barrels, Hickory Cask, and an un-aged Single-Grain Whisky. Nowadays, these whiskies are a rarity; Toronto Distillery Co. closed their retail store following the Wynne government implementing a 61.5% sales tax on distillery retail stores in December 2016. If you know someone who’s got a stash – make them dinner, offer them gold, or do whatever it takes to get your hands on it. According to their website, Toronto Distillery Co. is still laying down barrels for whenever the tax laws change. Let’s hope it takes less than three years.
Fun Fact: Toronto Distillery Co. is one of the founding members of the Ontario Craft Distiller’s Association.
Still Water Distillery
In contrast, Stalk and Barrel whisky, is readily available at the LCBO. The only caveat is that Still Water Distillery is based out of Concord, Ontario. It’s not completely Toronto centric, but works to the same effect as Dillon’s. This distillery also follows a micro-distilling approach. For a cocktail I would recommend Stalk and Barrel Red Blend and Blue Blend. There’s a noticeable difference in colour between the two blends, but they both utilize a blend of single malt, rye, and corn. The red blend is fuller-bodied and employs a sweet malt component. The blue blend is lighter, with notes of gentle spice and almonds.
Fun Fact: Still Water Distillery, which started production in 2009, uses copper pot stills.
Important Facts About Fernet-Branca:
Fernet-Branca is an integral component to the Toronto Cocktail. It’s an Italian bitter Amaro, also known as a bitter herbal liqueur. High in sugar content with a syrup-like consistency, this Digestif is ideal for sipping neat after a meal.
Origin: Milan, Italy.
Chamomile, Cinnamon, China, Galanga, Iris, Myrr, Rhubarb root, Linden Flowers, Saffron, Zedoary, Aloe Ferox,