I originally covered the Hanky Panky as my New Year’s drink for 2012/2013. I was still a baby cocktailian back then, however, and I honestly have no clue what I was thinking. Instead of the two dashes of Fernet Branca called for in the recipe I’d cribbed from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, I increased the dosage of Fernet from two dashes to a full quarter ounce! If you’ve ever “enjoyed” that infamously invigorating digestif neat, you will understand why I now plead temporary insanity. Time to make amends.
The invention of Hanky Panky (the drink, I mean) is credited to Ada Coleman, who was the female public face of Harry Craddock’s famed American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. As so often happens, the bar’s male owner put his name on a book and overshadowed its most beloved bartender. Still, it remains a great drink for those who like the bitter, the sweet, and some gin florals – all praise to Ada!
And there’s a story behind the name: Ms. Coleman served this drink to English showman Sir Charles Hawtrey. One sip and the plummy impresario is supposed to have said, “By Jove! That is the real hanky panky!” Presumably, a monocle fell out of his eye when he said it.
Today “hanky panky” refers mainly to illicit financial or sexual/romantic activity but the original meaning may have been closer to hocus pocus. Is this Hanky Panky drink magical? Hard to say but I think it’s better than most card tricks.
1½ ounces gin
1½ ounces sweet vermouth
¼-½ teaspoon (2 dashes) Fernet Branca
1 orange twist (essential garnish)
Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Add plenty of ice. The original recipe says to shake the drink, but 21st-century cocktailian protocol calls for stirring. Agitate vigorously by your preferred method and strain into a well-chilled cocktail glass. Finally, take a thin slice of orange peel, run the outside around the rim of the glass, and twist it carefully to express the oils over the drink. If the peel is fresh and the correct width, you should be able to see the oil spray on top.
Sip and consider: What is your choice for the real hanky panky, hocus pocus, or flim-flam?
A Hanky Panky is a very enjoyable all-booze beverage. Its blend of sweet and bitter from the vermouth and, vastly more so, Fernet, combined with the herbal and floral notes from a sturdy gin makes for an outstanding pre-dinner cocktail. A good premium-ish gin will help maximize the pleasure of your Hanky Panky
Let’s talk about the gins I used. Bombay Sapphire, with its enhanced botanical load, plays a lovely counterpoint to the vermouth and Fernet; its flavor was not fully concealed by the other ingredients but remained slightly beneath the surface. Tanqueray Rangpur’s strong citrus notes were yet more subtle but similarly pleasing in a Hanky Panky. LA’s Mulholland Gin is an odd duck of a brew, but vermouth can do a lot to soften the sharp elbows of its lavender and cucumber notes. Empress 1908 Indigo Gin – which may be the only blue booze to get that way without food coloring – is less aggressive in its floral notes and was in better harmony with the vermouths and Fernet. In terms of presentation, the Empress Indigo combined with the red-colored vermouth makes for a deep orange/dark-gold color that could have passed for a Manhattan. Plymouth Gin is always a classy choice for a cocktail and it’s reliably outstanding in a Hanky Panky.
As for my sweet vermouths, I used Noilly Pratt for my first round. It’s a solid baseline product quite like your Martinis or Cinzanos. While simpler in flavor than more expensive brands, these types of vermouth are real team players and that’s often all you really want.
After killing the Noilly Pratt bottle, I upscaled when I stumbled over an $18.00 375 ml bottle of Carpano Antica at my local Smart & Final; (it’s usually over $20.00). I was first wowed by Carpano in 2006 and it still justifies its higher price tag with an unmatched blend of sweet but complex notes and bitter undertones. Carpano dominated the drink in a way that a more unassuming vermouth might not. Nevertheless, it brought new dimensions to the Hanky Panky; not necessarily hugely better but with more going on.