In the long history of naming drinks after places, the Manhattan and its many borough-specific variations may be the most famous, with the Moscow Mule and Singapore Sling not far behind. But there’s another city-specific drink that deserves its due.
The Toronto cocktail combines rye whiskey with Fernet-Branca, simple syrup and aromatic bitters. It’s unclear if the drink was actually invented in Toronto or just named for the city. It’s also unclear when, exactly, it was created. But the Toronto first appeared in print in Robert Vermeire’s 1922 book “Cocktails: How to Mix Them” as the Fernet Cocktail. In subsequent books, including David Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,” the recipe was named the Toronto, as it’s known today.
American rye makes a fine drink, and you can experiment with any rye you like, but Canadian rye will keep you on theme. Fernet-Branca is a traditional Italian digestif made from a secret mix of herbs including myrrh, saffron, chamomile and gentian. Its pronounced bitterness makes it a divisive spirit. Many people, especially those in the bar and restaurant industry, choose to drink it straight, but Fernet-Branca also appears in classic cocktails like the Hanky Panky. When used properly, its bitterness lends a subtle accent to drinks rather than overpowering them. In the Toronto, that bitterness is significantly softened by whiskey and sugar.
This recipe comes from Michael Dietsch and his book “Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic & Original Cocktails.” Dietsch stays traditional with the recipe, opting for two ounces of whiskey and a conservative quarter ounce each of the fernet and simple syrup.
Depending who you ask, the Toronto is either a variation on the Manhattan or the Old Fashioned. The former camp notes that Fernet-Branca replaces sweet vermouth, while the latter camp says the fernet merely modifies the classic Old Fashioned formula of whiskey, sugar and bitters. However you splice it, the Toronto is a delicious, whiskey-forward drink with a bitter bite.
2 ounces Canadian rye whisky (such as Alberta Dark Batch)
1/4 ounce Fernet-Branca
1/4 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: orange twist
Add the rye whiskey, Fernet-Branca, simple syrup and bitters into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with an orange twist.