Drink of the Week: The Toronto Cocktail

The Toronto Cocktail.Last week’s drink might have been a bit uncertain when it came to its geographical underpinnings, but this week’s is pretty clear that it’s an homage to Canada’s most populous city, a place I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting. The Toronto Star traces its origins to a 1922 cocktail book written by a London-based bartender who claimed the drink was a favorite of Torontonians but noted that the province of Ontario had its own version of prohibition between 1916 and 1927. Moreover, there’s no other known connection between the drink and the particular city it’s named for. That being said, it’s a truly worthwhile classic cocktail that can stand proudly beside any other city-named drink you can think of.

In any case, this version of the Toronto Cocktail comes, once again, from David Embury’s 1948 “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.” Depending on how you look at it, it’s a variation of an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. Since I prefer to make this one on the rocks, I’d say it’s more the latter than the former. Try it for yourself.

The Toronto Cocktail

1 1/2 ounces Canadian or rye whiskey
1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
1/4 ounce simple syrup or, if you don’t have that, 1 teaspoon of superfine sugar
1 dash Angostura/aromatic bitters
1 orange twist (high desirable garnish)

Combine all of the ingredients in an old-fashioned glass with plenty of ice and stir well, and then add the orange twist. You can also make the drink in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, shaking or stirring and straining into a chilled cocktail glass and then adding the orange twist. In either case, note how the bitter and strong flavors can go down pretty easy in the right context.


I should note that most of the online recipes for this cocktail differ somewhat, bumping up the whiskey to two full ounces and calling for stirring and straining into a cocktail glass. If you want a boozier drink, it’s not a bad option. Still, I prefer this one built straight into the glass, and with these proportions, it’s the right balance of sweet and bitter flavors.

I also have to say that, while cocktail snobs may often turn up their noses at standard Canadian whiskey, I definitely preferred using simple, smooth (and cheap) Canadian Club over CC’s more complex rye. It seems to me that Fernet Branca, the strongly flavored digestif which pretty much forces you to thump your chest whenever you drink it straight, brings more than enough complexity. Using a strongly flavored rye might be a case of gilding the lily.