This past summer, my friend Ben came to D.C. for his one year Howard Hughes Institute Fellowship. Ben drove all the way to D.C. from Iowa and on the way, stopped in Rhode Island and had a Hanky Panky cocktail. When Ben first told me about this cocktail, I couldn’t believe it was a real drink. I insisted that it was something the restaurant had just made up and put on their menu, but Ben told me it was a legitimate classic cocktail and made it his mission to find one in D.C. Only a few days later, I was visiting my favorite bar and there on their chalkboard was a drink called the Swanky Panky that had all the ingredients of a Hanky Panky. This thing does exist outside of Rhode Island. In fact, the cocktail is credited to Ada Coleman head bartender at the American Bar in The Savoy in 1925.
Soon after, Ben bought a bottle of Fernet Branca (a bitter Italian spirit made from various herbs and spices), brought it to my apartment and we indulged in our own Hanky Panky cocktails. For Ben, a lover of bitter spirits, this was love at first sip. I didn’t really much care for the Hanky Panky at first but the drink quickly grew on me and it soon because my choice summer cocktail. Everywhere I went, I told people of my new discovery.
Maybe it is the use of gin or the orange twist, but I consider the Hanky Panky to be a summer drink. However, a few days ago I really wanted to fix myself a Hanky Panky despite temperatures being in the mid-30s. Luckily for me, Ben left his bottle of Fernet Branca and I had just enough gin for one drink. After some careful measuring, I had my first taste of Hanky Panky in months. The drink was just as good as I remembered — sweet, savory, and bright.
Although Fernet Branca can be spotted in many a bars and restaurants, it may be more difficult to locate at a liquor store. Do not let this stop you from making your own Hanky Panky. Once you procure the Fernet, it is all downhill. The recipe is not more difficult than for a manhattan or a martini and the cocktail is well worth the search for Fernet.
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet Branca
Orange peel or lemon peel
Angostoura bitters (optional)
Stir ingredients well in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled martini glass. Twist a small swath of orange or lemon peel over the surface of the drink.