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 Some accounts suggest that this drink was originally made with Canadian whisky which makes sense, especially considering that it’s called the Toronto cocktail.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.