Vintage Cocktails #50: The Hanky Panky

Here we are at number 50. Halfway through Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails in about a years time. Pretty decent, I suppose, considering the effort that some ingredients take to acquire. Well, on to the next one. This next cocktail at first glance seems basic and ordinary. Equal parts Gin and Sweet Vermouth, with a little bitters thrown in. But there is more here than meets the eye. The bittering agent used in this drink is Fernet Branca.

Fernet Branca is an amaro, a bitter, aromatic spirit, which some have described as tasting like licorice flavored listerine. I may concur. Created in the 1840′s by Bernardino Branca, this elixer is packed full with exotic spices. There are few in this world who know all of the ingredients to Fernet, and they aren’t telling. However, some of the herbs rumored to be infused into the grape base are: aloe, myrrh, chamomile, cardamom, codeine, mushrooms, fermented beets, coca leaf, gentian, rhubarb, wormwood, zedoary, cinchona, bay leaves, absinthe, orange peel, calumba, echinacea, quinine, ginseng, St. John’s wort, sage, peppermint oil, and a hearty offering of saffron, a key ingredient. Fernet Branca apparently accounts for upwards of 75% of the worlds saffron use, which is one of the most expensive food products in the world. Due to some of these ingredients, Fernet Branca has been billed as “medicinal”, and was in fact one of the only legal liquors available during prohibition. You can read a great article on Fernet Branca here. On to the drink.

This drink was invented at the Savoy Hotel in London. Not by the infamous Harry Craddock, author of The Savoy Cocktail Book, but by his predecessor, Ada Coleman. It was Ada who would make the bar at the Savoy famous, a feat all the more impressive considering she manned the stick during a time when bars were dominated by men. In fact, prior to prohibition, women were rarely even seen in bars. Leave it to those English to be so progressive. Anyways, give it a try, and if you are really bold, try a shot of Fernet as well. I did. Cheers!

The Hanky Panky
1 1/2 oz Gin
1 1/2 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Fernet Branca

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