A sweet gin martini, the hanky panky is a delightful cocktail that's sure to tantalize your taste buds. The star of this recipe is Fernet-Branca, that distinct herbal Italian digestivo that is often taken as a straight shot called "the bartender's handshake." It lends a wonderful bitter accent to the combination of gin and sweet vermouth, leaving you with a dinner-worthy drink unlike any other.
The hanky panky was created by Ada "Coley" Coleman at the American Bar in London's Savoy Hotel somewhere between 1903 and 1923. One of Coley's regulars was Sir Charles Henry Hawtrey (1858 to 1923), an actor and writer who, according to Coley, was "one of the best judges of cocktails I knew." She worked up this drink for him and after drinking it down, he said, "By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!" Coley retired in 1925 but her legacy lived on through this drink, thanks in part to its inclusion in Harry Craddock's famous "The Savoy Cocktail Book," printed in 1930.
- 1 1/2 ounces gin
- 1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Fernet-Branca
- Optional: dash orange juice (fresh)
- Garnish: orange peel
Gather the ingredients.
In a mixing glass filled with ice, pour the gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet-Branca. Add a dash of orange juice if you like. Stir well, for at least 30 seconds.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Twist an orange peel over the drink to express its oils, then lay it over the rim as a garnish. Serve and enjoy.
- Dry gin is typically used in the hanky panky. There are many options available in this category, including some of the biggest names in London dry gin.
- For the sweet vermouth, be sure that it's fresh. If your bottle has been open and unrefrigerated for longer than a couple of months, it's time to replace it because the fortified wine does go stale over time.
- A popular variation on the hanky panky pours 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth, and 1/4 ounce of Fernet-Branca. This results in a drier cocktail that some people may enjoy a little more.
- Some drinkers prefer adding a dash of fresh orange juice. It is not original to the cocktail but was added around 2010, according to Simon Difford. It's a welcome addition that brightens up the mix. Try it with and without to see what you think.
- Fernet is actually a style of Italian amaro (bitter) and Branca a brand name; it's also the best-known. You can substitute another fernet, though it will be slightly different as the 27 herbs, spices, and roots in Branca are part of a secret recipe. Do try others, such as Fernet Leopold Highland Amaro from Leopold Bros., as they also create a fascinating hanky panky.
How Strong Is a Hanky Panky Cocktail?
Like all liquor-only martinis, the hanky panky does not play around on the alcohol content. It packs a nice punch at around 24 percent ABV (48 proof) when made with 80-proof gin.