Despite being one of Canada’s largest cities, Montreal was once a place where it was difficult to find a decent cocktail. It wasn’t for lack of booze; during American prohibition in the 1920s, the Canadian port’s proximity to the U.S. made it a prime drinking spot, a tradition that still exists today (and has likely inspired the city’s numerous speakeasies). But up until about ten years ago, you were more likely to find beer and wine than a spot-on martini.
Which is why two years ago, in celebration of both their city’s burgeoning drink culture and its 375th anniversary, a group of local bartenders set out to craft a signature Montreal cocktail. The resulting namesake drink features London Dry Gin, Canadian rye whiskey, Aperol, and Suze in equal parts, creating a strong, floral-leaning tribute to Montreal’s British, Canadian, French, and Italian heritage. To the best of the bartenders’ knowledge, Montreal is the only city to create a cocktail from the ground up that represents and reflects its history.
“That’s what makes this cocktail so special,” says Manny Vides, one of the drink’s creators. “It was about a community coming together to say hey to the world. We exist, and we’re proud of what we’re doing. When we get together this is the kind of thing that we can make happen.”
While Montreal might be the first to construct a cocktail by committee, the tradition of naming cocktails after cities runs deep all around the world. With help from Montreal Cocktail creators Manny Vides of Dirty D, Kevin Demeris of Coldroom, and Graham Warner of Le Mal Nécessaire as (literal) spirit guides, here’s a primer on other notable cocktails inspired by their cities.
This classic was developed at the Manhattan Club in the early 1870s by Dr. Iain Marshall; it’s often said, apocryphally, that the drink was made at the request of Lady Randolph Churchill (mother of Winston), who was hosting a gathering at the establishment. The key ingredient in a Manhattan, old rye whiskey, was inspired by a surplus that the club had in their cellar. The cocktail also contains sweet vermouth and bitters, and after they were popularized in the early 1900s, maraschino cherries were added as a garnish. Although variations exist, today the recipe isn’t much different from its heyday as the signature drink of the Prohibition era, when it was often made with whiskey smuggled in from Canada.
Like Montreal, Toronto also has a namesake cocktail, a play on the Manhattan that swaps out the vermouth for fernet, a slightly more bitter Italian spirit. The recipe is first mentioned in the then-unnamed 1922 publication of Cocktails and How to Mix Them, in which author Robert Vermeire notes that “This cocktail is much appreciated by the Canadians of Toronto.” The seemingly inexplicable rise in fernet might be tied to the city’s Italian population, which expanded during Prohibition. The tweaked recipe was popular enough that the cocktail was officially dubbed The Toronto in 1948.
The Milano Torino is a drink named for the origin cities of its two main ingredients, Campari (from Milan) and vermouth (from Turin). Both bitter and sweet, this cocktail’s flavors allow for the addition of water or soda without growing too diluted; it is perhaps for this reason that the relatively under-the-radar cocktail is gaining popularity, thanks in no small part to an increased demand for cocktails that don’t instantly equal drunken evenings.
“I would say this would be the next classic to get revived,” says Vides. “Right now there’s a movement on the low-ABV cocktails and the stretched-out cocktails…Watch for this to start appearing at a lot of different bars.”
This one wasn’t invented in the Caribbean, as the name might imply, but rather in New York by Giuseppe Gonzalez, who claims to have perfected the recipe during his stint at the Clover Club during the late 2000s. The cocktail is meant to evoke island flavors with its sweet, sour, and spicy, Christmas-like tasting notes, created by combining rye whiskey, lemon juice, orgeat (a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and rose water) and Angostura bitters, which are made from herbs found in Trinidad. Unlike in most other drinks, Angostura bitters are used here as a base rather than a garnish. Because of this, and because these bitters contain low levels of toxicity, Graham Warner points out that you might not want to indulge in a Trinidad Sour too often.
“Those bitters are described as non-potable,” he says, “Which means it’s not something you’d want to drink in large quantities. Then again, what is alcohol?”
Invented in 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. This colorful cocktail, usually decked in elaborate fruit garnishes, experienced a revival in the ’80s, which feels like an appropriate pairing to an era of neon spandex and show-stopping hairstyles. This drink proves to be one of the more disputed cocktails among bartenders since there’s almost as many recipes as there are bars that will make one. But generally, one can expect gin, brandy, soda water, and a variety of fruit juices. The drink’s murky history is further complicated by the fact that the original recipe was preserved for years only in hotel employees’ collective memory, rather than being written down.
Every region’s cocktails have a story to tell. There’s Long Island Iced Tea, name-checked in Tom Cruise’s poem at the end of the 1988 film Cocktail (“The Iced Tea, The Kamikaze, The Orgasm, The Death Spasm, The Singapore Sling, The Dingaling...”). There’s the Moscow Mule, which isn’t actually Russian, but did save Russian-owed Smirnoff Vodka from going out of business in the 1940s. And there’s the Colorado Bulldog, a mix of equal parts vodka and coffee-flavored liqueur that’s been endlessly reinvented by generations of teenagers raiding the family liquor cabinet.
But no matter which city you honor, Demeris, Warner, and Vides all say the quality of your drink comes down to one thing.
“There might be a debate on which cocktail we like more or less, but one thing we’d probably not disagree on is using the right ingredients,” says Demeris. “It’s not a Campari substitute, it’s Campari. It’s not a locally made tequila substitute, it’s tequila. It’s not a sour mix, it’s lime juice and sugar. It’s not pineapple out of a Tetra Pak, it’s pressed pineapple, it’s pressed orange juice. I think that will absolutely impact a drink, regardless of what your tastes are. It’s all about the ingredients you use.”