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Maple Syrup, Hockey, and Whiskey
Toronto's top mixologists share their take on classic Canadian whiskey

It’s hopefully been a while since you sat at a bar that pushed it’s “famous” fuchsia pink corn-syrup sweetened “slushy” martini- and if not, you’re likely still under-aged. But rather, generally speaking, over the past three or four years, local mixologists have noticed an abrupt shift from juice, soda and syrup based drinks towards classical cocktails and heartier spirits like whisky. In the words of The Harbord Room’s esteemed mixologist, Dave Mitton, “Mad Men has done to Classic Cocktails and Whisky what Sex In The City did for The Cosmopolitan and Vodka.” That is, inspired local restauranteurs and bartenders to create such balanced and smooth libations, that even Carrie might consider the big switch.

And while Whisky may have made a fairly recent comeback on the Toronto scene, Forty Creek Whisky maker, John Hall, had the intuition to get into the craft back in 1992. A winemaker by trade, Hall opened up a distillery once he noticed a complete dearth in the Canadian whisky industry. Yes, there were Scotch whisky makers and bourbon whisky makers, but there were very few in the biz who were sticking to their Canadian roots. So Hall jumped in to fill that gap and started to test, taste and sample his way to a stellar brew. The key to making a Canadian product that our nation can be proud of? You’ve got to “start with great grains, great stills and great barrels,” Hall says.  Hall starts each of his bottles as small batch single grain corn, rye, and barley whiskies. Drawing from his experience as a winemaker, each individual whisky is then distilled in copper pots for a more authentic flavour, and later aged for 6 to 10 years in a variety of hand-selected light, medium and heavy char oak barrels. Once ready, the three varietal whiskies are then blended and finished in oak barrels.

The result? An iconic Canadian product that can be “internationally enjoyed just like maple syrup and hockey.”  And just like Toronto’s die-hard hockey fans, Canadian whisky has definitely earned itself a serious groupie following. So gain a little better insight into the city’s recent obsession with the liquid gold, I popped my head into some of Toronto’s hottest mixology establishments, chatted it up with the leading cocktail experts and did a little research-related tasting of my own behind the bar.

Photo credit: Leanne Neufeld

Frankie Solarik

Mixologist at BarChef

Author of upcoming book, The Bar Chef (released October 2013 by Harper Collins publishers)

Favourite Whisky Cocktail: The Manhattan

Favourite Toronto spots for Whisky: BarChef (“with over 150 selections!”) and The Harbord Room.

Favourite Way to Serve Whisky: “I put 100% of my artistic focus towards original recipes focusing on the more modern and progressive approach to cocktails.”

Top Food Pairing: Cured meats- “The saltiness keeps the pallet awake with the fat adding to the overall mouth feel of the whisky.”

Photo credit: Paula Wilson

Dave Mitton

Mixologist at The Harbord Room

Favourite Whisky Cocktail: The Toronto Cocktail

Favourite Toronto spots for Whisky: Spirit House, The Drake Hotel, Allen’s, and Emmet Ray.

Favourite Way to Serve Whisky: “In a cocktail of course!”

Whisky No-Nos: “There are some people that would argue with me but no [there aren’t any]. Drink it however you like it. If everyone liked the same thing, it would be a pretty boring world.”

Photo credit: Raini *+* Wilson

Oliver Stern

Mixologist at Toronto Temperance Society

Favourite Whisky Cocktail: Old Fashioned

Favourite Toronto spots for whisky: The Emmet Ray

No-no’s with Whisky: “I don’t like mixing with more expensive whiskies especially if
they will loose some of their characteristics.  An Old Fashioned is the
only cocktail I would recommend with a more expensive whisky.”

“Winning” Whisky Recipe: At the inaugural Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium event, Oliver Stern surprised the judges and chefs by creating a signature cocktail to match one of their competing dishes using Forty Creek Whisky.  After a difficult decision, the judges awarded Chef Bruce Woods (Woods Restaurant) the title for his Maple Bacon Potato Chip Donuts and Duck Confit & Quail Egg Chips. This is Oliver’s Whisky cocktail pairing for dessert.

Oliver serving up 40 Creek Whisky cocktails at Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium. Photo credit: Scott Ramsay

Hot Buttered Whisky 

1.5 oz Forty Creek Barrel Select

3 tsp unsalted butter

0.5 oz demerara syrup 1:1

0.25 oz all spice dram

5 oz water

Heat and enjoy!


If you haven’t already sat yourself at a barstool in front of one of our cocktail experts, you can get your 40 Creek Whisky fix and a whole lot more at the upcoming second round of Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium. Abbey’s Kitchen in partnership with the Toronto Standard, and presented by Forty Creek Whisky brings you the hottest pop-up food competition this year to help raise funds for local food initiative, My Food My Way (MFMW). On July 21st from 1-4 PM at Toronto’s MOD Club, four top chefs will be preparing two dishes each using a secret ingredient that will be revealed to the public on site.  Guests will be able to purchase the dishes and drinks from the bar, enjoy the live DJ, buy gift basket raffle tickets, and finally, watch as a panel of celebrity judges choose the winning chef who will move onto the championship in October.  Tickets are available for $10 at uniiverse.com, food for $5, drinks for $6, and a portion of proceeds will be donated to the MFMW.

Battle Two Chefs:
Eric Wood of the *NEW* Beverley Hotel Restaurant
Rodney Bowers of Hey Meatball & Food Network
Peter Ramsay of the *NEW* Geraldine
Jesse Vallins of The Saint

Battle Two Judges:
Trish Magwood (Food Network, Celebrity Cookbook Author)
Mike Chalut (Proud FM, TV Actor)
Vita Chambers (Pop Star Recording Artist of Hit Song “Fix You”)
Maggie McKeown (Food Network Judge)
Secret Ingredient Judge

So join us on July 21st to support Toronto’s budding food scene, and an amazing local food charity. Throw a couple 40 Creek Whisky cocktails in the mix, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a great summer Sunday afternoon! Cheers!

* This article was posted as part of Toronto Standard’s media sponsorship of Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium, of which Forty Creek is a sponsor. 


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