Yonge Street, Bloor Street,
Queen Street, King:
Catch an itchy monkey
With a piece of string.
Eaton’s, and Simpson’s,
And Honest Ed’s:
Give him his pyjama pants
And throw him into beds!
Fellow readers, may I present to you, Installment #3 of my “Drinks We Drank at Drink” feature. Today I shall bloviate about the Toronto. This cocktail was mixed for my dear friend and brother-in-law in response to his penchant for Campari. Coincidentally, this man just happens to have lived in Toronto for some 10 years. The bartenders at Drink can read minds.
The Toronto first appeared in the 1948 edition of David Embury’s classic cocktail book, The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Good heavens, that can only mean one thing: this cocktail wasn’t the invention of an ombibulous Canadian, but rather – gasp! – a goddamned New Yorker! Jesus Murphy, Lard Tunderin’ Christ! This being said, it should be noted that Embury specifically calls for Canadian Whisky in compounding this drink. I suppose that’s the link to Toronto then, given that this city is known to be centre of the universe and the capital of Canada…er… whatever.
Oh, but hold your horses. What’s this here? I’ve got new information, man! Some new shit has come to light! If one takes a close look through Cocktails: How to Mix Them, written by Robert Vermeire and published in 1922 – some twenty-six years prior to Embury’s book, one comes across the “Fernet Cocktail”, made by combining Cognac or rye whiskey, Fernet, gum syrup or sugar, and Angostura bitters, with a lemon peel garnish. Egad. That sounds an awful lot like a Toronto. The note accompanying the recipe removes all doubt:
“…this cocktail is much appreciated by the Canadians of Toronto.”
Well, there you have it. The cocktail traveled from Toronto to New York via London (Mr. Vermeire was the man behind the bar at the Embassy Club in London in the 1920s).
Now, with respect to how to make the thing, if we are to be historically accurate and use a Canadian Whisky that was popular in Toronto in the 1920s, we’d use something from the Gooderham and Worts Distillery. The G&W Distillery was situated on Toronto’s Waterfront – what is now referred to as the Distillery District. Shawn Soole, who’s behind the stick at Clive’s Classic Lounge in Victoria, BC, describes what the G&W Distillery would have produced at the time as being a “big, ballsy, old-school whisky.”
G&W weathered some tough times – due in part to the Ontario Temperance Act of 1916 – by diversifying in other ventures. Well, that and selling their wares to resellers, who then smuggled the booze over the border to the United States. Gooderham and Worts gotta get paid, son. At any rate, the distillery was sold in 1923 to Harry C. Hatch, a millionaire industrialist from Ontario specializing in the business of wine and spirits, who also acquired Hiram Walker & Sons Limited a few years later. Lamentably, production gradually declined and in 1987 the G&W facilities were sold to a British company who eventually shuttered the distillery’s doors in 1990. So it goes.
Some have argued that the rye stipulated in Vermeire’s recipe would have been of the American variety. Others, including Rhett Williams of the Pourhouse in Vancouver, have suggested that Canadian whisky lacks the chutzpah to stand up to Fernet Branca. Well, I beg to differ. Just be sure that the Canadian whisky you choose possesses a high rye content in its mashbill and you’ll be right as rain.
- 2 oz. Lot No. 40 Single Copper Pot Still Canadian rye whisky
- ¼ oz. Fernet Branca
- ¼ oz. Demerara syrup
- 3 dashes Angostura Aromatic bitters
Add everything into a mixing glass along with enough ice to fill the glass ¾ full. Stir whilst repeating “Rob Ford is an idiot” until properly chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a flamed orange twist.
Lot No. 40 is made in small batches in a single copper pot still by Corby Spirit and Wine Limited (formerly Corby Distilleries) from a 100% rye mashbill – 90% rye grain and 10% malted rye. Although no age statement is provided, word on the street has it that it’s 7 or 8 years old. Oh, and it is magnificent. Easily my favorite Canadian whisky, bar none. Loads of spicy, peppery rye flavour upfront with dark fruit, ginger, vanilla and toffee coming through, finishing with a pleasant bitterness. I don’t know about you, but if you asked me, I’d say that sounds like a big, ballsy, old-school whisky. Well, maybe with the exception of the alcohol content… if we can convince Corby to bottle it at 46% abv (or better yet, 50% abv) rather than the current 43%, I think we’d really be cooking with gas.
The Toronto is a great place for Fernet Branca to unfurl its mosaic of flavours without overshadowing the other components of the drink. It’s like Fernet training wheels for the uninitiated. The cocktail is a densely flavoured, brooding drink that unravels its complexities slowly yet surely. As suspected, the Lot No. 40 works beautifully here, although I can attest that Rittenhouse is also exceptional in this application. Be sure not to omit the orange twist – it adds just the slightest amount of brightness to this otherwise dark concoction.