In my last post I mentioned that our Thanksgiving cocktail coverage is going to be broken up into three segments (before, during and after dinner) but here I am, drink in hand, ready to present you with a cocktail that transgresses those boundaries. The Hanky Panky is singular, unlikely and delicious, and it provides a window onto one of the great cocktail bars and one of the great, forgotten bartenders. A little bit aperitif, a little bit with-dinner—it manages the neat trick of being a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.
By now many readers are familiar with Harry Craddock’s famous Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930, which has been superbly documented by Erik Ellestad. The book illustrates why the Savoy Hotel in London became an icon of cocktail culture, but Craddock’s notoriety has overshadowed the bartender who was the true face of the Savoy’s legendary American Bar. That bartender was Ada “Coley” Coleman, the woman who helmed the Savoy’s program at the height of its popularity.
Though the recipe for the Hanky Panky is included in the Savoy, most people are put off by the list of ingredients—being as they are fairly improbable—and the drink fell from memory. Ada is better known these days than she was before the re-publication of Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, wherein he revived the recipe for a new generation of cocktail enthusiasts. Regardless of where you find the recipe, however, it remains a fine cocktail even today—as well as a fine way to remember and be thankful for the pioneering efforts of ladies like Ada who slugged it out behind the bar when there were no female bartenders.
1½ oz gin
1½ oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet Branca
twist of orange peel
Stir all ingredients well in an ice-filled shaker and strain into a cocktail glass. Expel a bit of orange oil from the peel over the top of the drink , garnish with the twist and serve.
I probably lost you at sweet vermouth, and those of you who hung on through Fernet Branca are likely long gone by now. Yes, I know, it sounds dreadful in principle but this is a case where the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. The powerfully herbaceous flavors of the Fernet don’t tend to play well in cocktails, but here they assume the role usually assumed by bitters and marry the sweet and dry of the gin and vermouth. The orange oil adds a delightfully aromatic note that tops the entire cocktail—like the cherry on a sundae—and turns this into a savory, bright drink that makes a delightful complement to any part of the dinner hour.
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