Toronto – David Embury

1 part sugar syrup

2 parts Fernet Branca 

6 parts Canadian whisky

1 dash angostura

This cocktail may be made in old-fashioned glasses or may be stirred with large cubes of ice and strained into cocktail glasses. In either case decorate with a twist of orange peel

Fernet Branca is one of those spirits which always seemed to be on my back bar, but also always under a thick patina of dust. It wasn’t until about 2001 that I picked up ‘cooking with Fernet Branca’ in a second-hand bookstore that I decided to give it a proper try. The book was pretty average, easy reading fiction, but inspirational regarding drinking the stuff. I dutifully purchased a bottle and then spent the next few weeks trying to work it into cocktails.

Fernet Branca is a very bitter herbal liqueur, which like Benedictine uses the sweet spot of 27 herbs and spices for its flavour. It’s a punchy 39% and was designed, like most old European liqueurs as a medicine, and is used as a digestif. Fernet Branca is made in Milan, and its largest market is Argentina, bizarrely, where its consumed long with cola.

Fernet Branca is very bitter and intensely flavoured, so works well as a bitters, we ended up using it in drinks like Old Fashioned’s, a dash at a time. It has become a bit of a bartenders shot of choice in a lot of places recently, although I remember this more as a punishment than reward 16 years ago, and to be honest, as much as I like a small shot after dinner now and then, for me like martini’s it sits in Dorothy Parker’s ‘two at the very most’ category.

This drink with its 2 parts Fernet Branca is rare. I decided to try this in an Old Fashioned glass, and added a dash of black walnut bitters as well (ever since a teenage relationship with maple walnut ice cream I’ve always thought of walnuts as being as Canadian as maple syrup). We used a 50/50 mix of Makers Mark and Sazerac Rye for this drink as we don’t carry a Canadian Whisky (and besides, as Embury would say “Just a brief word about Canadian whisky, which, in my opinion, is all it deserves”) , I’ve justified this mix as Canadian whiskey tends to have a high rye content, but I didn’t want just a straight rye, and I decided that having some sweeter Makers in here would mellow the drink, and its done so beautifully. The drink goes back well before Embury, first appearing in print in 1922, so its had some staying power to still be relevant for his 1948 book. It has also been described as the “most popular legit cocktail that uses Fernet” and I can’t disagree with this. It has a decent amount of Fernet inside, yet with the sugar and whiskey balances perfectly. I can see why this would work straight up, but I sipped on this while waiting for a Pizza in the restaurant so wanted it to stay chilled for a little longer, we have those giant ice cubes so they melt a lot slower and don’t dilute too much.

It wasn’t the smartest drink though, as straight after we were having a spring cocktail tasting, and I didn’t scale back the ingredients in this drink so was a little to drunk before the tasting started, and didn’t give it my best attention, which will mean round two very soon.

I do however love the Toronto, and it makes an excellent digestif.