Friday, May 17, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Toronto

Pure happenstance. I swear to you. These things aren’t planned in advance. It’s a complete coincidence that I’m highlighting a cocktail called the Toronto right as the mayor of that metropolis apparently turns up in a video speaking way, way, WAY off the record while smoking crack cocaine. We all of us have our vices.

The Toronto is another drink exploiting the peculiar charms of Fernet Branca. For more on Fernet’s history and its idiosyncratic scent and taste, please to consult last week’s post on the Hanky Panky. Further Fernet factoids:

I was desperately hoping there would be a spike in sales of this abrasive amaro following its cameo appearance in The Dark Knight Rises as Alfred’s aperitif of choice. Presumably Bruce Wayne also drinks it; that would account for the Batman voice.

Costume designer Edith Head, of whom Rosemarie and I are inordinately fond, was introduced to Fernet by the English actress Madeleine Carroll. Edith’s take on the Italian liqueur? It’s “guaranteed to save you on the day you want to kill yourself.”

My favorite, oft-repeated Fernet story took place in 1960. Betsy von Furstenberg, the actress born a baroness, was suspended from Actors’ Equity because of a prank she played on her co-star Tony Randall. She playfully poured Fernet into the glass Randall had to drink from onstage. Randall took one sip – and immediately assumed he had been poisoned.

Knowing that, you’re even more keen to use some in a cocktail, right?

The Toronto was originally created to showcase Canadian whiskey. (Irony #1: It’s never made with Canadian whiskey anymore, thanks to the boom in quality American ryes.) The drink was created in the early 1900s, and survived because its recipe was enshrined in David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. (Irony #2: In Embury’s opinion, “a brief word about Canadian whiskey” was “all it deserves.” His brief word(s) on the subject: “I don’t like it.”) The drink is a variation on the Manhattan – although the presence of simple syrup means it also owes a debt to the Old Fashioned – so naturally it was named after Canada’s first city. (Irony #3: Early in the classic cocktail revival the Toronto was hard to come by in much of Canada because of a scarcity of Fernet Branca there.)

There’s no mistaking Fernet’s presence in a glass, but for all its assertive flavor it complements the base spirit it’s paired with. While it adds a playful edge to gin in the Hanky Panky, in the Toronto – or the T’ronta, as I’ve heard locals pronounce it – it lights a fire under the rye. Strange how a taste so distinctive can be so versatile.

The Toronto

2 oz. rye
¼ oz. Fernet Branca
¼ oz. simple syrup
2 dashes of Angostura bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with an orange twist.