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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Oh I love the name!! And I would totally make this for the sweetheart ! He is going to love it!!
Hi Ansh, isn't the name of this a hoot? Great tasting drink, though. Both you and your sweetheart are going to enjoy this. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a beautiful colour, John, perfect for Valentine's Day but sadly not for me! I am not a sweet drinker. JT's and my first time as a married couple travelling in the United Kingdom, we ordered a martini and there was so much vermouth in it, it made us gag!
The photo is really impressive. I actually had a mixed drink last night, maybe the first in years. So someday I'll comearound and try your recipes.
best... mae from maefood.blogspot.com
Fun name and beautiful looking cocktail. Sounds tasty too!
Hi Eva, this drink actually tastes a bit more like a Manhattan than a Martini, but it definitely has a sweet side to it. Despite the Fernet-Branca, which is NOT sweet at all. But I'd give this one a pass if I were you. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Mae, we used to NEVER drink hard liquor. It was reading all the stories behind some of the classic drinks that got us interested. We first got hooked on the stories, then wanted to see what the drinks tasted like. We're still more wine people, but obviously enjoy cocktails, too. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pam, it is tasty! And don't you just love the name? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, what a beautiful drink and tasty looking drink. I must congratulate you on your timing. Perfect for a Valentines dinner.
A hanky panky would be nice right now. Prost! I love your photos.
Hi Cheri, we've been saving this one for February. :-) Such a fun drink for Valentine's Day! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Gerlinde, this is such a fun drink -- terrific flavor! Thanks for the comment.
My mom makes a sausage and cheese dish served on cocktail toast that is called hanky panky. Maybe this is the drink to pair with them :)
A perfect drink for our national political scene! (and Valentine's Day!) I'm with Gerlinde, pass one my way!
Hi Laura, the two definitely wound like a match! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Deb, hadn't thought of the political scene connotation, but you're right! :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a fun name for this delish cocktail! I forgot that the original martini was sweet. it may be sweet but it has a lot of kick too! Cheers to February!
Haha! I love it! I'm not a big martini fan but a sweet martini sounds wonderful :)
Hi Evelyne, cocktails generally were pretty sweet in the 19th century. It wasn't until after 1910 or so (that's a ballpark number, and it's a big ballpark) that they started to become much drier. This definitely is sweet, but not cloying -- it's really good. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Chris, even though this IS basically a Martini, it doesn't really taste like one (it doesn't have that dry gin flavor that an actual Martini has). It's a fun drink. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This has a perfect color and I bet taste as well. Happy Valentine John.
What a flirty name for a cool cocktail ~ only thing better, would be to sip on it at the Savoy! I love dry gin and vermouth together and I'll be looking for Fernet-Branca soon. Thanks for the great recipe, John!
You had me with the cheeky name, John and I love this! Sharing it with a gin-aficionado friend. x
So beautiful and sexy. Something to look for for Valentine's Day!
A wonderful name for a beautiful drink! Valentine's Day is a good time to give this a try :)
Hi Amira, the color is nice, isn't it? Hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day, and thanks for the comment!
Hi Pam, this is a FUN drink! And flirty. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, the name is great, isn't it? It's fun ordering this in a bar! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Denise, this is kind of a sexy drink. And a good one! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Tricia, this really does seem like an ideal Valentine's Day drink, doesn't it? Or something with champagne, of course! Thanks for the comment.
LOL, love your kitchen riffs! These photos are stellar, John, and the cocktail sounds divine. Always fun to visit you and the Mrs.
Wow. More gorgeous photos of cocktails! I personally love to drink (ask any friend) but I don't like tasting alcohol. I know, that sounds weird, but I mostly drink wine, and my cocktails are really weak. So nothing on the rocks, and definitely no martinis. But I wish I could sip this lovely Hanky Panky!
Hi Robyn, this was a fun one to shoot! And to drink. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Mimi, you do taste the booze in this, so probably not a cocktail for you. Maybe a sip -- it's really good! -- but it's fairly strong. Thanks for the comment.
Wow, Ada Coleman of the London Savoy hotel must have seen a lot of things from 1903-1924 (i.e. World War I). The Hanky Panky cocktail no doubt would have helped some people to get through those times!
Hi Fran, that was really a time of huge change in England (Downton Abbey covered part of that time period). Really interesting stuff. And interesting drinks. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a cute name for a cocktail!
sounds really nice, you made me dream about a weekend fun:)
oh my... I just finished work today and it was so hot. I am exhausted and I could need your hanky panky cocktail. The name is just hilarious too and I wonder how it tastes.
btw I need to watch downton abbey again =)
Hi Ola, this is a great Friday treat! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Peachy, isn't the name so much fun? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Helene, the name is great! Flavor is really good -- a little bit like a Manhattan (even though it contains gin rather than bourbon or rye). It's all that vermouth talking. :-) Thanks for the comment.
when I saw the name of the recipe I immediately thought about my dust-covered cocktail shaker that desperately needs some love. Then I found out all I needed to use is to mix by stirring. So convenient that I can leave my shaker alone. Thanks for the wonderful drink idea!
We all need a bit of Hanky Panky in our lives! Keeps things more interesting that way! So I guess we need that cocktail, too which is a very good thing! Thanks John!
Hi Yi, your shaker probably needs some love anyway, but not necessary for this drink. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, count us in as being in favor of hanky panky! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Beautiful shots, John, and your cocktails are always very tempting!
In my experience, most cocktails are hanky panty cocktails. I love the story that goes with this one so much, that I'm going to start using "that is the real hanky panky" as my catch phrase. I'm not sure I can pull off a "by jove," but it the catch phrase does seem to need it.
This IS just perfect for Valentine's Day!
Hi Angie, too tempting! So two is the limit. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Jeff, it does need that "by jove," doesn't it? Although maybe a "jeez" or "golly" would work, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Caroline, it is! And you like gin, so there you go. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I'd love a bit of hanky panky for Valentine's Day or any other time, thank you very much. :)
Hi Maureen, the cocktail is pretty good, too. :D Thanks for the comment.
Beautiful color, John! I enjoyed the Fanciulli, by the way, so I bet I'd like this one, too. May give it a go tonight.
Hi Frank, doesn't this look great? Glad you enjoyed the Fanciulli -- if you like that, you'll like this. Thanks for the comment.
Perfect for the upcoming holiday! And, again, I'm in awe of your perfect twist of lemon. Practice makes perfect, right???
Hi Liz, a LOT of practice on those twists! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I am literally LOL at all the Noel Coward allusions! Just told The Hubs we should have planned accordingly to make these for your SB party!
Hi Debra, :-) Fun drink, and SO MANY different ways we could have written about it! Thanks for the comment.
Love the story of its creation! I had to laugh before "hanky-panky" is not a term you hear often nowadays. :) I've always enjoyed gin so this drink sounds good to me. Thanks!
Hi MJ, the use of the word has fallen out of favor, alas, but not necessarily the practice. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Now that is so appropriate for the holiday coming up. I think it deserves to be sipped in front of a roaring fire place on a bear-skin rug. LOL
So pretty I hope to try it someday. Maybe I'll order it out since I don't have the ingredients on hand.
Hi Carolyn, LOL! Now, that's a picture. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Vicki, this would be a really good drink to order out. I've actually seen this featured on a couple of restaurants cocktail menus here in St. Louis. Thanks for the comment.
An excellent drink, for Valentine's Day or any day.
Hi Beth, it's a good one! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hahaha, love the name John. Love how pretty and stunner this cocktail looks. This would surely make a fantastic drink for Valentine's day or any weekend.:)
Hi Anu, the name is fun, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
My my! What gorgeous sight for my sore eyes! We Muslims don't drink but that doesn't refrain me from adoring your drink-pictures. So beautiful! So inviting!
Hi Nusrat, we didn't used to drink cocktails, but loved their stories and the way they looked. So we'd read about them. They're a fun subject even if you don't drink them. :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a fun name for a cocktail. It's very pretty and yes, perfect for Valentine's Day. I've never tried Fernet-Branca xx
Very interesting variation on a martini. Perfect for valentine day, pure seduction in a glass,
Hi Charlie, isn't this a neat drink? And its name is wonderful! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rahul, this drink is indeed pure seduction! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Anything Manhattan-ish is right up my alley. And the name is perfect for Valentine's day.
Hi Pamela, you'll like this -- even though it has gin, its flavor profile is fairly similar to a Manhattan. Thanks for the comment.
John this drink sounds lovely more maybe as a sweet ending to a meal instead of a dry martini before dinner? I have never tried Fernet-Branca so am interested to know what this tastes like. Wishing you and Mrs. Riff's a happy Valentines Day and a toast!
Hi Bobbi, this would be too dry for after dinner. It's a sweet cocktail, but sweet the way a Manhattan or Old-Fashioned is. Happy Valentine's Day, and thanks for the comment.
This is such a fun name for the cocktail...and I am loving all the stuff you have in it...yes, great for Valentine's Day! Thanks for the recipe John :)
Hi Juliana, isn't this a fun one? Love its name! Thanks for the comment.
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