Toronto’s love for whisky goes back generations, and it doesn’t just involve those made in Scotland, Ireland, or America. The city itself has been a proud producer of smooth, flavorful Canadian whisky for years, and in no small way. In the 1870s, the Gooderham and Worts Distillery on Mill Street was the largest distillery in the world, and a number of craft distillers in the area carry on the tradition to this day. Naturally, there’s no shortage of bars that stock an impressive selection of Canadian whiskies for you to sample on your next group outing, so we’ve gone through the trouble of sussing out the city’s finest. Winter is an ideal time to discover the national spirit in all its different varieties, so gather your friends and drop by one of the 3 best Canadian whisky bars in Toronto for a history lesson of the most delicious kind.
Char No. 5 Whisky Bar
One of the most exciting new additions to Toronto’s sipping scene is Char No. 5 Whisky Bar, located in the lobby of the just-opened Delta Toronto Hotel in the trendy SoCo district. Step inside and your heart will swell with Canadian pride. Not only does the modern space brim with artwork inspired by Canada (think hockey pucks and a two-story mural of Niagara Falls), the bar’s finely curated whisky menu taps into the growing interest in home-grown brands.
If you’re a newbie and want to start with something mild and sweet, go for the Crown Royal Regal Apple, a tasty new Canadian rye bursting with freshness from ripe Gala apples. More experienced spirits enthusiasts will appreciate the bar’s impressive selection of bold, high-rye whiskies such as 66 Gilead Distillery‘s delicious Crimson Rye. Made from 100% rye grains in nearby Prince Edward County, it evokes the spirit of Canada’s early pioneers with the the aroma of honeysuckle and notes of dried fruit. Cocktail connoisseurs aren’t left out in the cold either, with a distinctive menu of stellar Prohibition-era drinks such as the old pal. Dating back to 1920, it tames a fiery mix of spicy Lot No. 40 Candian rye and bitter Campari with a civilizing dash of bianco vermouth. As for the bar’s name, it refers to the aging process of whisky, in which new spirit is poured into oak barrels that have been charred with fire to mellow out for a few years. (A barrel with a “Char No. 5” will impart lots of delicious vanilla flavors.)
Further east in Leslieville is Ceili Cottage, a quaint pub that converts its patio into a semi-traditional yurt during the colder months. You can cozy up with your buddies in the heated tent, hand-painted in Mongolia and lined with sheep’s wool felt, while you escape the gusts of winter, Marco Polo-style. Toast your latest success with two fingers of Glen Breton Rare 10-year-old from the Glenora Distillery in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, a rich single malt that compares to a fine Speyside whisky from Scotland. While you’re there, you can also explore a selection of hard-to-find international whiskies such as Penderyn from Wales, or the rare Woodford Reserve Four Wood, a Kentucky bourbon that’s finished in barrels made of port wood, sherry wood, and maple wood. To get the most out of your experience, order a dozen raw oysters served on a sparkling bed of crushed ice. Pick up one of these treasures of the sea and chase its briny taste with a bracing sip of whisky. The interplay of flavours is nothing less than magical.
Another worthy whisky-inspired stop is Allen’s on The Danforth, where you can hang out in one of the burnished, dark wood booths and soak up the laid-back Irish-American saloon vibe. Allen’s does whisky in a big way, with 340 varieties – from Scotland, Ireland, the US, and Canada. The top pick here is Century Reserve 21 year rye from Highwood Distillers in the Canadian Rockies. Its delicate butterscotch, toffee, and honey flavours pair nicely with comfort food options such as fall-off-the-bone-tender bison back ribs. Don’t miss Allen’s annual toast to Scottish culture on Burns Night (January 25), a celebration of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, that includes poetry, bagpipe music, traditional foods, and Scotch whisky. Wearing a kilt is optional.