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Drink of the Week: Toronto

The Toronto combines two things we love: rye whiskey and Fernet-Branca. Some accounts suggest that this drink was originally made with Canadian whisky which makes sense, especially considering that it’s called the Toronto cocktail. But there’s more to love when you make it with rye. We haven’t written too much about Canadian whisky. It’s a popular spirit, to be sure, represented by a multitude of brands in most liquor shops. We have nothing against the smooth flavor of Canadian whisky, but there’s a reason it doesn’t appear very often in recipes.

Canadian whisky (spelled without the “e”) is a blended product. Blended in this context refers to a spirit made by combining a pure distillate with neutral alcohol. For example, Laird’s Applejack comes in two varieties, a pure, bonded apple brandy and a blended version. The bonded Applejack is made entirely from distilled cider wine, whereas the blended version contains only a percentage of the apple distillate and a healthy dose of neutral grain alcohol. Blending with neutral spirits allows distilleries to stretch their product by adding cheaper flavorless alcohol to a pure, flavorful base. It’s not really dilution like it would be with water because the neutral components can be highly concentrated (like Everclear). But it’s fair to argue that blended products contain less of the “good stuff” and by extension, less flavor. The other side of the coin is the argument that a blended spirit like Canadian whisky is a smoother product—a fact that has long been promoted in advertising.

2 oz rye whiskey
.25 oz Fernet-Branca
.25 oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

To each their own, but for mixed drinks, you normally don’t include an ingredient unless you want to taste it (vodka being the exception). That said, blended spirits are rarely a mixologist’s first choice. We used Templeton Rye in our Toronto which may be the best of both worlds. It gives the drink everything you want in terms of a full-flavored whiskey, but like a Canadian blend, it’s smooth—an attribute not common among ryes. This allows the small amount of Fernet-Branca to poke through as was probably originally intended. Of course, other ryes will be just as delicious and your preference may depend on how fond you are of Fernet.

Rounding out the recipe is a bit of 1:1 simple syrup which helps to tone down the bitterness of the amaro. Together, the syrup-Fernet mixture sets up a flavor ratio that works nicely with the whiskey. A Manhattan riff is essentially what we have here with the sweetened digestivo taking the place of vermouth. The garnish is very important as the orange zest works wonderfully with the Angostura spice and contributes a fruitiness that offsets the potent botanicals. Use a fresh, solid orange, slice off a disc of the peel and flame the zest over the drink for maximum effect.


6 comments to Drink of the Week: Toronto

  • If you want to keep it entirely Canadian, you could go with Pendleton 1910, which is both a Canadian whisky and 100% rye.

  • Good point, although Pendleton is an unusual product. By most accounts, it regarded as a tasty whisky, but it's not labeled as a straight rye. It may come from 100% rye grain, but distillation in Canada has no limits on the ABV. Anything distilled to higher than 80% loses most of the flavor from the mash grain and is considered neutral or near neutral. Of course, Pendleton is distilled in Canada but it is bottled in Oregon where it's blended and brought down to 80 proof. But there's really no telling how high it was when it came from Canada or how much straight whisky actually goes into the bottle with higher-proof neutral. You don't see "straight rye whisky" on the label in any case--something they'd definitely advertise if they could. In this sense, it may be no different than most Canadian whiskies.

    That's not to say its bad or that it won't work in this cocktail, but I should have been more specific and said it works best with American Straight Rye.

    Have you tried Pendelton in this cocktail or done a side-by-side comparison with American rye? I have not. Perhaps we can get them to send a sample my way so we could do a proper review. It might be nice to know exactly how it's blended. Their website doesn't give up many details.

  • Good points about the Pendleton. The reviews have generally been favorable, but the low bottling proof and relatively high price point at $40 has so far kept me away. Around here, Jefferson's 10 Year Rye is actually cheaper and bottled at a higher proof than the Pendleton. While it's also bottled in the U.S., it comes from rye whisky intended for flavoring Canadian blends. It's a pure rye experience and highly recommend. It's pretty much my favorite rye below the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection ryes, which is saying something.

  • Ahh, but have you tried Templeton? Bit hard to obtain in PDX I imagine (I don't see it on your shelf online) but worth the effort if you mail order. It never seems to last very long though for some reason. ;-)

  • paulskav

    Actually I don't like Fernet (tastes like cough drops!). I substitute Cynar and the result is amazing, in my opinion.

  • I won't argue that at all. It does have a medicinal character to it. But, I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of it and how it interacts with other flavors. Cynar would be a great substitute. I'll have to give that a try.

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