A whiskey-based delight that’s perfect for Canadian Thanksgiving
The second Monday in October is coming up (on October 8, to be exact). And that means Canadian Thanksgiving!
What better way to celebrate than with a toast? And what better drink than the Toronto Cocktail? It’s named after Canada’s most populous city, the capital of Ontario — and a great city to visit.
So here’s to Canada: One of the best neighbors, ever.
Recipe: The Toronto Cocktail
The Toronto Cocktail is a hearty mix of Canadian whiskey, Fernet-Branca, simple syrup, and bitters. The addition of Fernet-Branca (a bitter herbal liqueur from Italy) gives this drink some zip, as red vermouth does in a Manhattan. But the bitterness is tempered by sweetness, so it also reminds us of an Old-Fashioned. In fact, we think of it as a cross between those two drinks.
This drink traditionally is made with Canadian whiskey, which contains rye. But Canadian whiskey tends to be lighter and smoother than American-made rye whiskey. That’s because it often contains a high percentage of neutral grain spirits, which contribute to the alcoholic quotient of the whiskey but don’t add much flavor.
Most of the Canadian whiskeys sold in the US are rye-neutral blends. But you can find unblended Canadian rye whiskey as well, and that’s our preference for this drink. More about that in the Notes.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves one.
- 2 ounces rye whiskey (Canadian or American; see Notes)
- ¼ ounce Fernet-Branca (see Notes)
- ¼ ounce simple syrup
- 1 to 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- garnish of orange peel or wedge (optional)
- Place all ingredients (except garnish) in a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir briskly until the ingredients are well combined and chilled – about 30 seconds.
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that’s been chilled. Garnish, if desired, and serve.
- This drink is typically served “up” in a cocktail glass. But you could also serve it over ice in a rocks (Old-Fashioned) glass.
- Why stir rather than shake? Because the ingredients in this cocktail are clear. Shaking would cloud the drink (by introducing oxygen bubbles).
- The bubbles dissipate pretty quickly, though, so shake away if that’s your preference. We often do.
- Rye is an important component of Canadian whiskey. In fact, many people use “rye” and “Canadian” whiskey as basically synonymous terms.
- But why does Canadian whiskey so often include neutral grain spirits in the mix? The reason dates back to the Prohibition era. When whiskey ceased being produced in the US during the Prohibition years, bootleggers turned to Canada for supplies. But whiskey can take a while to produce (good-quality whiskey is aged – typically at least 3 or 4 years, and often considerably longer). Canadian distillers couldn’t increase production fast enough to meet the demand. So they started blending neutral grain spirits into aged whiskey to increase volume. This kept the alcoholic quotient high, but somewhat diluted the flavor.
- The Toronto Cocktail tastes best when made with whiskey that has a high rye quotient. We used a Canadian Club 100% rye. A US rye, like Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond, would also work.
- Fernet-Branca is a bitter herbal liqueur (i.e., an amaro). Some people like to consume it neat as a digestif (or even as a morning-after pick-me-up).
- We find the taste of Fernet-Branca a bit too strong by itself. But it’s wonderful in cocktails.
- BTW, we’ve seen recipes for the Toronto Cocktail that substitute brandy for rye. We like brandy, but much prefer whiskey in this drink.
Bring on the Turkey!
“Great idea to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “In addition to the US version.”
“Indeed,” I said. “Twice the toasting. And double the turkey.”
“Plus, there are almost no Christmas decorations in the stores yet,” said Mrs K R. “So we can give thanks without worrying about the invading Black Friday hordes.”
“Very civilized,” I said.
“Yup,” said Mrs K R. “Just like Canada.”
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