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How The Toronto Cocktail Got Its Name

Toronto Cocktail

In the history of naming cocktails after places, the Manhattan and its variation lead the line, with Singapore Sling and Moscow Mule close behind. But there is another city-specific drink that warrants its due. The Toronto Cocktail is a delicious rye whiskey cocktail that features Fernet-Branca. This perfect balance of bitter and sweet is rich and full of flavor. While it's not as popular as its counterparts and not found on most bar menus outside the city of Toronto, this dry, rich cocktail with a little bitter bite provides a fantastic drink. Here is a review of the Toronto cocktail, its history, classic recipe, and even how it got its name.

What Is the Toronto Cocktail?

This cocktail is a unique mix of Fernet Branca, Canadian rye whisky, and Angostura bitters and sweetened with maple syrup. The spicy rye and bitter fernet is a unique pairing with the addition of some maple syrup, softening it all up a bit. According to Cocktail Monkey, the Toronto Cocktail is aromatic, bitter, and delicious drink that can quickly turn into your new favorite.

The Toronto Cocktail History

There is a bit of mystery about the origin of the Toronto cocktail. The cocktail seems very unlikely to first originated in Toronto unless it had emerged before World War I, as the Canadian Prohibition took effect from that point on. However, it's still possible that this drink was made before the Prohibition era when Toronto experienced a thriving in its Italian population since Fernet-Branca, one of the cocktail's signature ingredients, is an Italian product.

Fernet-Branca is an intensely bitter ingredient made from a secret list of ingredients, including chamomile, rhubarb, saffron, cinnamon, and myrrh. Toronto cocktail balances out the bitterness using whisky and sugar. The first Toronto cocktail appeared as the Fernet Cocktail in Robert Vermeire's 1922 book, 'Cocktails: How to Mix Them .' According to BlogTO, Vermeire was a London bar-owner who referred to the drink as Fernet cocktail and noted that the Canadians in Toronto highly appreciate the cocktail.

However, because Ontario had an alcohol prohibition between 1916 to 1927, it's most likely that the enthusiastic Canadians were first introduced to the Toronto cocktail at Vermeire's bar in England. In all chances, we will never know the actual origin of the drink. His recipe includes rye whiskey or cognac, Fernet, gum or sugar syrup, Angostura bitters, and lemon peel garnish.

Fast Forward to the 40s

By 1930, the drink was featured as the Toronto Cocktail in the Cocktail Bill Boothby's World Drinks and How to Mix Them by William Boothby. The cocktail's recipe by Boothby and Vermeire both featured equal measures of Fernet-Branca and rye whisky. Years later, the subsequent books, such as 'The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks' by David Embury in 1948, the recipe was named Toronto, as it is referred to today.

In his recipe, Embury used cognac in place of Canadian whiskey. In 1949, the Toronto Cocktail was also included in esquire's handbook for hosts. There is a relative disagreement on whether Toronto is a modification of the Old Fashioned or the Manhattan recipe. Based on who you ask, the Toronto cocktail is a variation of the Manhattan cocktail or the Old Fashioned. Some say it's similar to the Manhattan with simple syrup and fernet-branch substituting the sweet vermouth.

Others claim that the Toronto cocktail adds Fernet-Branca to the traditional Old Fashioned recipe, merely modifying the classic Old Fashioned formula of sugar, whiskey, and bitters. Regardless of how you spice it, the Toronto cocktail is a delightful, whiskey-forward cocktail with a bitter bite.

So, How Did the Toronto Cocktail Get Its Name?

The Toronto cocktail is named after the Canadian city of Toronto. According to THE STAR, it's not clear whether the drink was invented in the city of Toronto or just named after the city. However, as stated above, Robert Vermeire claims Canadians love the drink in Toronto city. Numerous bars and restaurants in Toronto have the city's namesake on their menu. Chantecler and Monarch Tavern in Parkdale have the cocktail on their menu, with Rush Lane bar offering the drink on tap. Outside Toronto, this cocktail's enthusiasts might find it hard to get the drink on most cocktail menus. It's mostly known as a call drink, which is not on the menu, but most competent bartenders know how to prepare it if they have a Fernet-Branca in their stock.

Toronto Cocktail Classic Recipe

American rye prepares a fine drink, and you can try it out with any like you like. However, Canadian rye will keep you on the theme of preparing the classic Toronto cocktail. Fernet-Branca is a traditional Italian digestive made from a secret mixture of herbs, including saffron, myrrh, gentian, and chamomile. It features a pronounced bitterness that makes it a divisive spirit. Most individuals, particularly those in the restaurant and bar, opt to drink it straight, but Fernet-Branca also appears in a classic cocktail like the Hanky Panky. Its bitterness generates a subtle acceptance of drinks instead of overpowering them when used well. In the Toronto cocktail, the bitterness is highly softened by sugar and rye whiskey preventing it from overpowering the cocktail. Generally, this cocktail produces a rich flavor with moderate bitterness.


  • 2 ounces Canadian rye whisky (such as Alberta Dark Batch)
  • 1/4-ounce simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • 1/4-ounce Fernet-Branca
  • Garnish: orange twist


  • Put the Canadian rye whiskey, Fernet-Branca, bitters, and syrup into a mixing glass with ice and stir until thoroughly it is well-chilled.
  • Strain into a chilled coupe glass or on rocks in an Old Fashioned glass.
  • Garnish with an orange twist and serve.


Hopefully, you now understand how the Toronto cocktail got its name, history, and recipe. Whether you will be spending an evening out or only want to prepare a Canadian-themed cocktail from the comfort of your house, the Toronto cocktail is an excellent drink to mix or order. With its bitter/sweet balance and intense and dry flavor, this closely linked drink to Manhattan and Old Fashioned is the ideal drink to add to your mixing collection.

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Lily Wordsmith

Written by Lily Wordsmith

Lily Wordsmith is a freelance writer who has had a love affair with the written word for decades. You can find her writing blog posts and articles while sitting under a tree at the local park watching her kids play, or typing away on her tablet in line at the DMV. In addition to her freelance career, she is pursuing ebook writing with an ever-growing repertoire of witty ebooks to her name. Her diversity is boundless, and she has written about everything from astrobotany to zookeepers. Her real passions are her family, baking desserts and all things luxe.

Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith

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