That Sweet Burn: The Hanky Panky

The Hanky Panky in it's natural element.

The Hanky Panky in it’s natural element.

We kidnapped the drinks columnist from the National Post, Adam McDowell, and spoonfed him tequila ’til he agreed to make us sinful cocktails on the regular.

Sex and alcohol share certain parallels. As children, we overhear inscrutable and mysterious whispers and tittering about both topics (“When will I understand these jokes?” the child wonders). Drinks and whoopie belong, undeniably, to the world of adulthood — dauntingly so. To the uninitiated adolescent, they are simultaneously tantalizing and terrifying, and that feeling lingers for some adults. The inexperienced or trepidatious among us never cease to regard sex and liquor as taboos.

The recipes I’ll be sharing are all dead simple, requiring no fancy cocktail know-how and only the minimum of specialized equipment and preparation. This is easy enough to accomplish by reaching back to the classics: The mixology that was practiced prior to the 1970s was not only sexier and more confident than what you typically encounter today, it was also less showy in contrast to our century’s infusions, “molecular” fussing and anxieties over which brands of liquor to use.

To illustrate the above, I’ve dug up a venerable old cocktail called The Hanky Panky. It follows a basic spirit-vermouth-bitters plan that’s familiar in many pre-1940 cocktails, but in a somewhat unusual way: It matches gin with sweet vermouth (i.e., the red kind, usually seen in the company of whisky). The bitter element is Fernet-Branca. That’s an amaro, a spicy spirit that is best introduced to newcomers as one of Jägermeister’s sophisticated Italian cousins.

The combination tastes like what might happen if a Manhattan and a martini made sweet love and produced a worldly, wise-beyond-her-years child. But you really should try for yourself.

The Hanky Panky first appears in the original Savoy Cocktail Book, a 1931 tome laying out the drinks on offer at the time at London’s Savoy Hotel. (The drink’s name fits, since hotel hanky panky is the best kind.) According to Ted Haigh’s book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, the inventor was Ada Coleman, a woman who took command behind the bar at a time when it was an overwhelmingly male preserve.


• 1½ oz. gin (try something assertive, like Beefeater or Plymouth)
• 1½ oz. sweet vermouth
• 2 dashes (say, ½ teaspoon) Fernet-Branca or other very bitter amaro
• an orange

Method: Stir liquid ingredients with ice in a mixing glass — a pint glass will do just fine — until ice cold and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Ideally using a vegetable peeler, take a thin slice of peel off the orange (in the ballpark of an inch by two inches). Squeeze it above the surface of the drink to flavour it with a spray of the essential oils of the peel. Use the peel as a garnish.

Adam McDowell is the drinks columnist for the National Post (, and more of his boozy explorations can be found at