The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Do the Hanky Panky, Just as Ada Coleman Did

Posted on | September 17, 2015 | Written by Julia Punj | No Comments

A classic Hanky Panky

A classic Hanky Panky

The Hanky Panky is by far my favorite cocktail. It combines gin, sweet vermouth, and fernet to create a perfect combination of medicinal sipping pleasure. An iconic cocktail, the Hanky Panky was created by Ada Coleman at the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel. Affectionately called “Coley” by the patrons of her bar, Ada has a place in cocktail history not many women can boast. At a time when few women had sway or say, Ada was became the first head barman at one of the most important bars in the world, creating cocktails for literary powerhouses, European royalty, and famous artists and actors.

The legend is that Ada created the Hanky Panky for Sir Charles Hawtrey, an English actor and man about town. In 1925 a London newspaper asked her to recount the creation of the Hanky Panky. “The late Charles Hawtrey,” she answered, “was one of the best judges of cocktails that I knew. Some years ago, when he was over working, he used to come into the bar and say, ‘Coley, I am tired. Give me something with a bit of punch in it.’ It was for him that I spent hours experimenting until I had invented a new cocktail. The next time he came in, I told him I had a new drink for him. He sipped it, and, draining the glass, he said, ‘By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!’ And Hanky-Panky it has been called ever since.”

Ada was preceded at the American Bar by Harry Craddock who later published The Savoy Cocktail Book, a favorite of bartenders for the last hundred years. This book saw the first publication of the Hanky Panky recipe. This simple recipe combines the medicinal qualities of fernet branca with the herbaceous floral qualities of the sweet vermouth and gin. It’s an unabashedly booze-forward cocktail that can be sipped on four hours or taken all thoghter for a quick pick me up. It goes as follows:

2 dashes Fernet Branca

½ Italian Vermouth

½ Dry Gin

Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass,

Squeeze orange peel on top.

Fernet Branca is a brand of Fernet that has become synonymous with the liquor. It is an exceedingly bitter Italian digestivo formulated from 20 to 40 herbs and botanicals that offer powerful medicinal properties intended to settle the stomach and speed digestion. Each brand of Fernet has a different recipe and a different level of bitter. Although Fernet Branca is often thought of as the only Fernet, Fernet is a classification of liquor that has been around for centuries. Fernet has been popular in Eastern European countries for ages and has had a cult following in Argentina since the1800’s—Argentinians drinks more fernet than anyone else. There are about a dozen different brands of fernet that can be used in your cocktails. The Hanky Panky calls for Branca, but you can substitute for a brand that you like better. I prefer the Czech Republic Fernet from R. Jeliniek; it’s a little sweeter and a little less bracing.

hanky panky and bottles

A mixologist at work

The important point is that the Fernet that you choose to use in your Hanky Panky should complement your vermouth and the gin. The idea behind the Hanky Panky is to help the digestion and settle the stomach after a large, rich meal, so the gin you use should have a kick to it. Navy Strength, or Beefeater are all terrific gins to use, but I prefer Hayman’s Old Tom or London Dry because they have a hint of quinine and a little bit more flavor. As I’ve spoken about before, sweet vermouth is a fortified wine that’s flavored with herbs, spices, or floral notes. The vermouth that you chose should be in line with the cocktail—something herbaceous and Italian will do. You can reduce the amount of vermouth by half if you like a dryer cocktail, or even use a Cocchi Americano Rosa if you like a sweeter taste.

My preferred recipe is as follows:

1 oz. Hayman’s London Dry

1 oz. Dolin Rouge

2 bar spoons Jelinick Fernet

Shake, do not double strain, and serve up with orange peel garnish.

Then do the Hanky Panky, and enjoy the brainchild of one of the first important women mixologists, Ada Coleman.


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