After our first sip of Fernet-Branca we doubted there would ever come a time that we would actually enjoy the stuff. It's a common reaction. Since then, we have proven over and over that the rumors of its miraculous medicinal effects as a remedy for an upset stomach are all true, and through the years of occasional doses to help us ease digestion, it happened. Fernet was no longer the vile and bitter solution to mystery meal after-effects. Instead, we found ourselves actually enjoying the herbal complexity. We began to seek it out on bar menus looking forward to sampling cocktails whose creators attempted to incorporate its not-so-subtle signature. It's fair to say that today, we're big fans!
One of the first recipes you might run across when armed with a bottle of Fernet-Branca is the Hanky-Panky cocktail. Its creator, Ada "Coley" Coleman ran the American Bar at the Savoy in London in the early 1900's serving cocktails to discerning guests such as Mark Twain, the Prince of Wales, and Sir Charles Hawtrey, a popular actor of the day. According to Coley, this cocktail was invented especially for Hawtrey who, upon drinking it said, "By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!"
1.5 oz gin
1.5 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet-Branca
Stir with ice for at least 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a large orange peel twist, expressing as much of the oil onto the drink as possible.
The Hanky-Panky has found its way into many cocktail books over the years, most notably, The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock who worked under Coleman. However, as we stated earlier, folks tend to have difficulty with ingredients like Fernet, and over the years it faded somewhat into obscurity. More recently, thanks to the efforts of fellow bloggers, innovative bartenders and respected writers and historians, products like Fernet-Branca are as popular as ever. It might not be commonplace at every local bar or liquor store yet, but thankfully, you can now make this cocktail with relative ease. The cocktail even appears in the September / October 2007 issue of Imbibe Magazine.
To say that Fernet-Branca is the feature in the Hanky-Panky is somewhat of an overstatement. Even if you are not yet a fan of this intense herbal amaro, don't let that stop you from trying this drink. It's basically a sweet vermouth Martini that is transformed by the Fernet which acts more like cocktail bitters at this amount. We used Carpano Antica Formula vermouth which easily became the dominant flavor. For that reason, you need a dry gin with some bite so it isn't completely lost.
We were quickly wishing we had added a quarter ounce instead of just two dashes of Fernet. As always, you can adjust according to your taste, but the idea is that the amaro carries the fifty-fifty gin and vermouth to a different place. Fernet is so strong it doesn't take much to transform the drink, and had we tried the Hanky-Panky some years back, two dashes would have worked fine, but the next time we mix one it will have a bit more herbal complexity. This is one case that you simply cannot skip the garnish. You need a big piece of orange peel to express a lot of oil on this drink. Even if you don't want a huge floater in your glass, do yourself a favor and cut some extra peel so you can do the job right even if you decide to discard most of it.
The Hanky-Panky is shown here in a gorgeous etched coupe and a beautifully embroidered vintage cocktail napkin.