Keeping History Alive
Whisky has never been as popular as it is today. Around the world, from Japan to Europe to our Northern neighbors in Canada, whisky is making its name heard – loud and clear. In particular, Toronto is whisky-central with bars enthusiastically pouring numerous selections, a historic Distillery District, and even a local whisky distiller.
Toronto’s love of whisky can be defined through the eyes of history, dating back to the early days of settlement. The arrival of the first wave of immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and England also brought their requisite enthusiasm for whisk(e)y. And, nearly two centuries ago, the city was home to the largest distillery in the world, Gooderman & Worts, thanks in part to flourishing sales during the American prohibition period of the early 1900’s.
You can start off in the Distillery District, a national historic site that is home to restaurants, theater companies, a brewery, and plenty of independent shops. It also plays host to several year-round annual events.
The Cavern Bar is located downtown in the basement of Hostelling International, and while it may not seem like the typical place to find a fine selection of spirits, it appears backpackers may be in on a hidden secret. This tiny, but cavernous bar does pull its weight in whisky, with over 30 offerings from the well-known to the micros. Try the 2 Gingers Irish Whiskey, or locally produced Collingwood brand. The bar also plays host to a variety of events from games nights to live music and DJ’s. Also, cheers to the backpackers for keeping prices reasonable.
Allen’s Restaurant Bar and Backyard and the adjacent Dora Keogh Irish Pub are located on Danforth Avenue in Toronto’s east end. Allen’s began operations in the late 1980s when New York native John Maxwell decided he wanted to open an Irish/American-style saloon. Today, it’s an institution in the city, frequented by locals for the proclaimed list of over 300 available whiskies. There are plenty decade-aged selections to choose from within the $10.00 range or for those looking to splurge there are a few premium options, such as Highland Park 40 Year Old (48.3%) and Glenfiddich 1973 30 Year Old Vintage Reserve (49.8%), both priced at $295.00 a shot. Both sides have Irish-themed live music most nights of the week.
The Irish Embassy Pub & Grill is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding office towers that make up this section of downtown. Bar Manager Simon Ridgard is an Irish ex-pat, and carries a rather hefty selection of his homeland products (35), in addition to Scotch Single Malt (23) and Blended (5) selections, Gaelic (2) and Canadian (7) mainstream brands, and recognizable Bourbons (6). The Wild Geese Soldiers & Heroes Rare Irish Whiskey is smooth, nicely balanced, and a great find on the menu. As for Canadian independent labels, reach for Alberta Premium Dark Horse, Forty Creek Barrel Select, or Lot No. 40 Single Copper Still Pot.
Char No. 5 Whisky Bar provides a pure Canadian whisky experience, the first of its kind in Toronto. It recently opened as the lobby bar within the new Delta Toronto hotel, located in the recently designated SOCO (South-Core) district, adjacent to the Air Canada Centre, home to the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs sports organizations. The environs are almost reminiscent of a 1950’s diner with a dozen stools lined along an unassuming counter top, except the backdrop is a wall of Canadian whisky instead of burgers and fries. The bartenders are knowledgeable and more than willing to help choose the best selection to match your craving. From straight up and on-the-rocks, to specialty cocktails like a Blackberry Smash or a classic Sazerac, this is the place to dive into Canadian whisky history, or try something new.
Toronto Distillery Company
The Toronto Distillery Company creates spirits that are produced entirely from the harvests of Ontario’s organic farmers. The distillery also has created Ontario’s first farm-to-table organic spirit in an un-aged white whisky. This is a must for whisky enthusiasts who want to understand what various grains bring to the drink on their own merits, and to explore what effects a grain’s “terroir” has on a whisky. Enjoy neat as a slow sipper, or try it in a LimOntario, 2 oz. Ontario Wheat with 4 oz. Lemonade.
Tours are offered, and bottles can be purchased onsite or via one of several Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores. The distillery is located in the Junction neighbourhood in the west end of Toronto, and is the first new distillery to be licensed in Toronto since 1933.