The Controversy Surrounding the Toronto (Cocktail)

The Controversy Surrounding the Toronto (Cocktail)

Good day fellow imbibers! Let’s indulge in the classic Toronto Cocktail

Here is the recipe as we have come to love it, through a few years of experimentation, and with a few of our favorite ingredients:

2 oz Michter’s Single Barrel Rye
1/4oz to 1/2oz Simple Syrup to taste
4 heavy dashes Dillon’s Angelica Bitters

Combine ingredients in a stirring vessel. Add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe. Express lemon oil over the drink and float one bar-spoon of Fernet Branca over top. Garnish with lemon peel.


The Toronto Cocktail

The iconic Toronto cocktail. Is it a New York tribute or born and bred in the city bearing its name?

The reason for this drink being mentioned in the pantheon of classic cocktails is simple. It is, as classics often are, easy to construct with timeless ingredients that make your tongue sing! American Rye, Bitters and Fernet Branca are all being reborn as a new generation tastes and loves, or at least pretends to like, their intense flavor profiles.

This cocktail is a sipping pleasure. I would argue it’s both a classed up old fashioned and a great way to introduce a newbie to the exquisite intensity of Fernet without merely making them do a shot and then laughing at their disconcerted reaction.

When properly made, a Toronto Cocktail will “Wow!” your guests and have them eager to try the next drink that you put in front of them. A Bartenders great duty is to establish trust with their guests. We may start by making a drink they know and love and make it better by paying diligent attention to every service detail and using superior ingredients. Doing so, we create the opportunity to make them a drink we have in our proverbial ‘wheelhouse‘, the drink we are really eager to make when the timing is just right.

A well made Toronto cocktail will accomplish more good than I can list here, but includes building trust, winning a novice drinker over to craft cocktails and increasing sales of the niche products on your bar that you so badly want to carry but need to convince the boss the risk to have them will be offset by your ability to sell them.

 I promised controversy! Some believe that New Yorkers created the Toronto cocktail! Or is it from, uh, Toronto?

For this I will borrow heavily from the research done by Rhett Williams (Pourhouse Vancouver) in his excellent piece, The Toronto Cocktail:

Highly respected Victoria bartenders Shawn Soole (Little Jumbo)  and Solomon Siegal (Pagliacci’stracked down the publication, Cocktails and How To Mix Them” (Robert Vermeire, 1922) finding mention of a Fernet Cocktail with “Cognac or Rye whiskey, Fernet Branca, gomme syrup/sugar, and Angostura bitters, finished with a lemon peel garnish”. Underneath the recipe was written, “this cocktail is much appreciated by the Canadians of Toronto.” This was printed twenty-six years earlier than the book, “The Fine Art of Making Drinks” (David Embury, 1948) which suggested the cocktail was a New York drink. This is definitely the winning argument in naming the Toronto as a Canadian cocktail. Williams continues to write that it is “interesting that Cognac is listed first, with the suggestion of just ‘rye whiskey’, which brings me right back to my original thought that the intention was not to use Canadian whisky. Shawn Soole also notes that Robert Vermeire, the book’s author, was from Belgium and worked a lot from London, publishing his book there. Based on his location, the use of the word ‘rye‘ would likely be the American one (i.e., actual rye grain whiskey, and not just Canadian whisky) “Regardless, the earliest mention says it’s from Toronto, so I’m proud to say that we Canadians can claim a great cocktail.”, surmises Williams.

If it was made in 1920’s downtown Toronto, Gooderham and Wort would have most likely been the Canadian whisky used, which Shawn Soole calls a “big, ballsy, old-school whisky.” Today, he recommends Forty Creek. I always lean to American whiskey, and the best one I’ve had is with Rittenhouse Bonded straight rye”.

The Toronto Cocktail has enjoyed a steady resurgence since the ardent research of noted bartender/proprietor of Canon Bar (Seattle) Jamie Boudreau, brought it back to light in 2006.

However you make the Toronto cocktail we suggest you use a..

“big, ballsy, old-school [rye] whisky”

Play with the lesser bitters you use, add just enough sugar to soften it and give it a measure of Fernet Branca that keeps it friendly. You’ll have control of what you carry on that promising back-bar in no time.

Toronto Cocktail

Here’s everything you need to build a Toronto Cocktail. Sorry about the Fernet. We drank it all. Try floating other Amari on the drink too. Braulio Alpine Amaro is a light alternative. Amaro Sabilla is a bold one.

If you are looking to add to your toolkit, visit our affiliate store for some great deals on the items pictured. 

Share This Articles
Written by

Bartender. Dirt City Bon Vivant. Writer for @CulinaireMag | Contributor to | Partner in @justcocktails |

1 comment

  • livelikeburning

    […] cocktails that call for Fernet: the Toronto, the Fanciulli and the Hanky Panky. […]

Input your search keywords and press Enter.
%d bloggers like this: