toronto cocktail

Toronto's namesake cocktail is the best drink you've never had

Did you know that Toronto has a namesake cocktail? Don't feel bad if you answered no — beyond the city's bartenders, few people have heard of our signature drink, let alone tried it.

Perhaps it's the result of local modesty, but you just don't hear much about the Toronto cocktail, despite the fact that it's been around for at least a century and rivals some of its more famous companions like the Manhattan and the Singapore Sling. 

That's a shame because it's a fantastic drink. 

The origins of the cocktail are a bit murky, but its earliest mention seems to be in the 1922 publication of Cocktails and How To Mix Them by Robert Vermeire. He refers to it as a Fernet Cocktail and notes that "this cocktail is much appreciated by the Canadians of Toronto."

His recipe calls for "cognac or rye whiskey, Fernet, gum syrup or sugar, and Angostura bitters, with a lemon peel garnish."

A post shared by Fernet-Branca (@fernetbranca) on

By the time David Embury's The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks came out in 1948, the cognac was replaced with Canadian whisky and the generic name gave way to the Toronto. Today you'll also see the drink made with rye, though the basic recipe has remained unchanged.

There's speculation that the cocktail originated in Toronto during the pre-Prohibition era (i.e. prior to 1916) when the city's Italian population was on the rise. They would have brought the fragrant and bitter Fernet Branca with them, so the theory goes. 

Truth be told, no one knows for sure where or when the Toronto was born, but it's certainly plausible that the city's early Italian immigrants mixed the potent amaro they brought to Canada with the whisky being churned out at the Gooderham & Worts distillery

If you're looking to try one today, you'll find it on a few cocktail lists around the city. Mulberry Bar makes a fantastic Toronto, ditto for Rush Lane, and Chantecler. Cellar Door also makes a version called the New Toronto, which is a riff on the restaurant's location. 

For those experimenting at home, here's the recipe:

  • 2 oz. Canadian whisky or rye
  • 1/4 oz. Fernet Branca
  • 1/4 oz. simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Garnish with an orange peel
Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez at Cellar Door


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