Perfect for Valentine’s Day
In February, our thoughts naturally turn to Hanky Panky (the cocktail, of course).
And if the name sounds like the title of a Noël Coward play, well, that’s fitting: It was invented for an actor who mentored Coward.
More history in a bit. First, we need to learn how to mix this beauty. Because your sweetheart awaits.
Recipe: The Hanky Panky Cocktail
This drink combines dry gin and sweet vermouth in equal measures, spiced up with dashes of Fernet-Branca. Essentially, it’s a sweet martini.
If that sounds strange, remember: The original martini was a sweet drink. Today’s Dry Martini was a 20th century innovation.
We discussed Fernet-Branca (a bitter herbal liqueur from Italy) in our post on The Fanciulli Cocktail. And the flavor of this drink may remind you a bit of the Fanciulli – though that cocktail features bourbon, while the Hanky Panky is gin based.
Traditionally, this drink is served “up” in a cocktail glass. But it’s also good over the rocks in an Old-Fashioned glass.
This recipe takes under 5 minutes to prepare, and serves 1.
- 1½ ounces dry gin
- 1½ ounces sweet vermouth (Italian red vermouth; see Notes)
- ¼ ounce Fernet-Branca (~2 dashes)
- orange twist for garnish (optional)
- Add all the ingredients (except garnish) to an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir until the ingredients are thoroughly chilled (about 30 seconds).
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that’s been chilled). Garnish with an orange twist, if you wish, and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because the ingredients are clear. Shaking introduces air bubbles, which can make a drink cloudy. (That doesn’t matter when some of the ingredients are opaque – think citrus juice).
- Having said that, let us make one thing clear (so to speak): Cocktail rules exist to be broken. So shake away if that’s your preference. We often do.
- As discussed in our post about the Fanciulli Cocktail, Fernet-Branca is an Italian bitter liqueur (i.e., an amaro). It is sometimes consumed neat as a digestif – though its flavor is too powerful for most of us to drink straight. That bold flavor is what makes it ideal as a small-quantity ingredient in cocktails.
- Fernet-Branca has become quite popular in recent years, and you should be able to find it in any liquor store. It’ll be shelved with the vermouth and/or cordials.
- When a cocktail recipe specifies gin, it’s usually understood to mean dry gin. “London” dry gin is the most common style (it originally was distilled in London, hence its name). But there are other styles of dry gin that are fairly similar (Plymouth gin, for example). Any good name brand will work in this cocktail.
- For sweet vermouth, we like the Martini and Rossi brand. But there are a lot of fun sweet vermouths available these days, so experiment.
- Vermouth has a fairly low alcohol quotient. So once it’s opened, it will start to oxidize. We store opened bottles in the refrigerator to extend their life.
- Our usual reminder: We’re noncommercial and don’t receive compensation for mentioning brands. We recommend only what we like and buy with our own money.
- The Hanky Panky was invented at the Savoy Hotel bar in London, early in the 20th century.
- That bar’s most famous tender was Harry Craddock, an American who moved to London during Prohibition to ply his trade there. He was a renowned mixologist who invented many drinks, and also authored The Savoy Cocktail Book. The Hanky Panky is included in that collection of cocktails – but this drink wasn’t one of Craddock’s creations.
- Before Craddock, the head bartender at the Savoy was Ada “Coley” Coleman, who shook and stirred there from 1903 to 1924. It was she who invented the Hanky Panky. As she tells the story, the drink was created for Sir Charles Hawtrey, then a famous actor. He was a regular patron at the bar – and a cocktail connoisseur. One day Hawtrey asked her to mix up something new. So she concocted this drink. When Hawtrey tasted it, he said, “By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!” And thus the drink was named.
“Swell,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This drink makes me feel like a blithe spirit.”
“Do I sense a Noël Coward riff coming on?” I asked.
“Of course,” said Mrs K R. “Like Sir Noël, I’m determined to travel through life first class.”
“Think he would have appreciated the Hanky Panky?” I asked.
“Well, he once sent Gertrude Lawrence a congratulatory telegram on her new play,” said Mrs K R. “It read, ‘A warm hand on your opening.’”
“Right,” I said. “Hope our readers enjoy the slightly risqué.”
“Yes,” said Mrs K R. “To quote the redoubtable Coward: We love criticism, just so long as it’s unqualified praise.”
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