Whether you’re single or coupled, here’s your chance to get some Hanky Panky this Valentine’s Day! The Hanky Panky is a classic gin cocktail that’s a riff off an old standby, the martini. The drink combines equal parts gin and sweet vermouth as the base of the drink (I used Death’s Door Gin and Carpano Antica), while 2 dashes of Fernet Branca act as a playful alternative to bitters.
Some spirits near mythical status within the beverage industry, and Fernet Branca is one of those. If you want to act like the bar staff, order a shot of Fernet on your next night out (and maybe one for your bartender too).
Fernet Branca is an intensely bitter Italian amaro (it comes from the same family of liquor as Campari, Averna, Cynar, Aperol, etc. if you’re keeping track). You can call Fernet Branca many things, but timid is not one of them. This bitter spirit has been described to taste “like black licorice-flavored Listerine” (yum….), and many agree that whether you love it or hate it, you’re going to have a strong opinion about it. It’s difficult to describe the exact taste—there are distinct notes ranging from mint, licorice, and citrus to an earthy, chocolaty bitterness, finished off with a kick of menthol. I like spirits with a bold personality, and Fernet Branca does not disappoint!
Since 1845, Fernet Branca has been made from a closely guarded formula containing more than two dozen herbs. For over 150 years, the recipe has passed down from the brand’s founder, Bernandio Branca, to each new generation of the Branca family. Fernet Branca’s website boasts that 27 different herbs—from aloe and rhubarb to chamomile and saffron—are sourced from four continents before being aged in an oak barrel for at least one year.
Given Fernet Branca’s intense and complex flavor profile, it is not the easiest ingredient to work with when mixing cocktails. As done in the Hanky Panky, one of the easiest ways to use Fernet is as a substitute for bitters, capturing the intense kick of flavor without overwhelming the rest of the drink. Fernet plays quite nicely with a wide variety of spirits, besides gin– I think it pairs well with whiskey.
The Hanky Panky cocktail was invented in 1925 by Ada Coleman, the head bartender at the American Bar in London’s famous Savoy Hotel. The cocktail was created specially for actor Sir Charles Hawtrey, a frequent patron of the Savoy Hotel. That year, Coleman described how the drink got its inventive name to The People, a UK newspaper (at least according to Wikipedia, so maybe take it with a grain of salt!): “The late Charles Hawtrey… was one of the best judges of cocktails that I knew. Some years ago, when he was overworking, he used to come into the bar and say, ‘Coley, I am tired. Give me something with a bit of punch in it.’ It was for him that I spent hours experimenting until I had invented a new cocktail. The next time he came in, I told him I had a new drink for him. He sipped it, and, draining the glass, he said, ‘By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!’ And Hanky-Panky it has been called ever since.” The drink solidified its place in cocktail history when it was included in the legendary Savoy Cocktail Book.
-1 ½ oz gin
-1 ½ oz Italian vermouth
-2 dashes Fernet Branca
Combine the three ingredients in a mixing glass, and stir with ice. Strain into a martini or cocktail glass, and garnish with an orange peel.
A special thanks to the Baddish Group for making sure Spirited Away got some Hanky Panky this Valentine’s Day!