The Great Toronto Cocktail Challenge: The Derby
Toronto's cocktail climate was once dominated by vodka, the silent spirit known for its ability to disappear, allowing bartenders the indolent freedom to mix it with virtually anything. But as the scene has evolved, the discerning drinker's palate has matured as well. Today Whiskey is more often the spirit of choice, favoured for its complex, earthy flavours and it's surprising versatility. And among whiskeys themselves, bourbon has never been more popular.
Camp 4, on Dundas West, is much more suited to whiskey as well. The laid back environment probably suits the sale of beer more than anything else, but don't be fooled by all the tattoos and plaid, this place is home to some super fine mixed drinks as well. Take for example the Derby, a deceptively simple mixture of Makers Mark Bourbon, Benedictine and maple bitters. It doesn't sound like much, but it's a combination worth talking about.
Derby - 2.5oz, $15.00
Makers Mark Bourbon
Top Notes: 7/10
As I said, this one might sound pretty simple, but the thing is great ingredients - will hopefully - produce a great product and in the case of the Derby, it's just that. It's a good bourbon, enhanced by a dash of Benedictine with a few drops of maple bitters added for good measure. Stir with ice and then serve with a bruised spear of lemon peel that fills the glass with a beautiful citrus bouquet.
The Back End - 8/10
Ultimately, this is a whiskey cocktail through and through. It's the primary flavour in the glass and everything else is there to enhance that base ingredient. That being said, a splash of Benedictine and a few drops of maple bitters go a long way in transforming a glass of bourbon.
Essentially, this could be considered a riff on an old fashioned. The ingredients basically add a little sweetness to mellow out the bourbon, which is a little hot just on its own. But rather than simple white sugar, Benedictine provides an herbal sweetness that gives the drink another dimension. Now, I don't know if I was just imagining it because I knew they were there, but I did detect the very faintest hint of maple buried deep inside the glass--just a barely there richness that, whether a placebo or not, I enjoyed.
Finish - 8/10
The key to whiskey-based cocktail is sweetness. Whether it's a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned or a Derby. The goal is to smooth out the alcohol just a touch while sneaking in a bit of additional flavour as well. If anything, this drink could have probably benefitted from a touch more bitters, but even as is it's a keeper. It's a stiff drink that tastes like one, the kind of thing your Dad might drink or, for that matter, my Grandmother.
Total Score: 23/30 (77%)
Previously in the series
An earlier version of this piece listed the price of the Derby as $9.00 and the type of bourbon as Bulleit, the misprint has been corrected above.