The Hanky Panky

The golden age of cocktails happened during the period of prohibition in America. (So it seemed to have the reverse effect.) During that time, people made their own spirits underground, like bathtub gin, and since the taste wasn’t exactly up to snuff, a good number of cocktails were concocted so that the taste of the main alcohol could be hidden under a few layers of various other mixers.

Les cocktails are have enjoyed a renaissance in Paris, and across France, including the introduction of the first gin made in France, Citadel, in the illustrious cognac region and a revival of Dolin vermouth, made in the French alps. Nevertheless, gin isn’t as wildly popular in France (yet) as it is elsewhere and if you order a ‘martini’ at a café or restaurant, 9.9 times out of 10, they’ll bring you a glass of red Martini & Rossi vermouth.

To prove that point, I was recently at a restaurant in Paris with a full bar and an impressive cocktail menu. Since it was my birthday, I decided to treat myself to an icy cold martini. To make sure I got what I wanted, I added, “…with gin and vermouth,” to my order. The waiter was confused and didn’t know what I was talking about, so I went to speak to the bartender. Of course, he knew exactly what to do, which was a relief, because one of my mottos is “Never order a cocktail from someone who hasn’t heard of it before.”

I don’t drink gin as much as I used to, which may mean that I’m becoming more French. But I haven’t lost my taste for it and stirred up a batch of Hanky Pankys. It’s a terrific summer drink; the little bit of fruitiness from the sweet vermouth counterbalanced by a few dashes of bitter Fernet Branca, makes them go down quite easily. Which you’ll find out if you stir one up.

The Hanky Panky
Print Recipe
1 cocktail
I like to add a dash of orange bitters; the slight fruitiness tames the sharper edges of the drink. The recipe comes from Ada Coleman, who was the head bartender at The Savoy Hotel in London in the early 1900s. According to The Savoy Cocktail Book, the drink was originally shaken, but most people prefer to stir, rather than shake.
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet Branca
1 dash orange bitters (optional)
1 orange twist
Add gin, vermouth, Fernet Branca, and orange bitters (if using) to a cocktail mixing glass. Fill 2/3rds full with ice and stir briskly until very cold, about 15 seconds.
Strain the mixture into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange twist.


Related Recipes



Strawberry Vodka

Rosé Sangria

Spritz Aperitif

The Hanky Panky


  • Kelly
    June 13, 2014 7:23am

    You read my mind. I was looking for an alternative gin drink, and, a recipe for strawberry vodka…which came up as a related post. Thanks! Reply

  • June 13, 2014 9:37am

    What a fun name – I would definitely need to have already had something to drink before asking for one, though. First time I’ve heard of it – and Fernet Branca – but then, perhaps I’ve been in France too long and drink wine. Funny you mention about the gin. I used to drink this a lot (Beefeaters, Bombay Sapphire) and my interest was aroused again by Edinburgh Gin, given to me as a present. Not bad! Good excuse to drink this over the summer to counteract the mosquitos… Cheers to a Hanky Panky weekend (yes, and I’m sober writing this). Reply

  • June 13, 2014 10:45am

    I’m a huge fan of gin martinis, but I would never dare order one at a restaurant in Paris..way too worried that thye would bring me Dry Martini vermout over ice…can’t think of anything I would dislike more! I just tasted sweet vermouth on its own for the first time and really enjoyed I’m excited about this mix! Thanks for the great idea, as always! Reply

  • June 13, 2014 10:45am

    I’m a huge fan of gin martinis, but I would never dare order one at a restaurant in Paris..way too worried that they would bring me Martini brand dry vermouth over ice…can’t think of anything I would dislike more! I just tasted sweet vermouth on its own for the first time and really enjoyed I’m excited about this mix! Thanks for the great idea, as always! Reply

  • Colleen
    June 13, 2014 1:24pm

    I presently have a jar of Citadel infusing with strawberries. I am not sure if it is going to be simply poured over ice, as with your strawberry infused vodka, or if it will be mixed into Bohemians (eqaul parts gin, St Germaine, and grapefruit juice plus a dash of Peychauds bitters). When you are in the Bay Area again, find some 209 gin. It is not a flowery as Citadel but even more smooth. Reply

  • ron shapley(NYC)
    June 13, 2014 2:09pm

    Hi Dave………………. Have you ever enjoyed a Dubonnet
    Cocktail ??? Reply

  • Susan B.
    June 13, 2014 3:31pm

    Looks and sounds like the city cousin of the Negroni. After an early traumatic first encounter with Fernet-Branca the stuff still scares me a bit, but this will probably tame it. Probably not worth using a “designer” gin like Hendricks or Monkey 47? Reply

  • June 13, 2014 4:01pm

    I went to a gin tasting not too long ago and adored Citadel. There is a huge cocktail Renaissance going on in North America right now and all those forgotten cocktails are reappearing again. I am ok with that! Reply

  • June 13, 2014 4:34pm

    David, you had me at gin! Reply

  • shell
    June 13, 2014 4:37pm

    Time to get out my ice cube trays (after a looooong cold winter.) Reply

  • Carla
    June 13, 2014 4:37pm

    Sounds good, I’m one of those people that love Fernet Branca straight up after dinner, especially if I’ve had too much to eat. I’m on vacation right now and having a Negroni every evening. Wil try this as soon as I get home. Sounds very similar to the Negroni, maybe a little more bitter? Reply

  • claudia
    June 13, 2014 4:38pm

    Should you decide that there really must be a test kitchen, I would gladly come work in it for a few weeks, without compensation (other than chance to enjoy the results of testing recipes!), as anything from dish pig to carrot peeler to saucier. I’ve given up cooking professionally but miss the camaraderie – gossiping – sipping & tasting of creating great meals so a test kitchen for a few weeks, with YOU??!! I’d even share my chocolate meringue ice cream recipe with you…. Reply

  • gabrielle
    June 13, 2014 4:39pm

    That is my favorite cocktail! My other favorites are the Sidecar, Manhattan, and Blue Moon. So good. Reply

  • June 13, 2014 5:21pm

    As you probably know cocktails are a big thing in New York these days, AND there is a DIY movement.

    Love yours by the way; amusing, informative commentary, fantastic photos and inspiration at every turn. Reply

  • June 13, 2014 6:21pm

    Still have not tried Fernet. It seems like its currently every hipster-esque bartenders liquor of choice. I think I am afraid of more ‘herbal’ spirits because when I was 15 and we were moving from Brazil to Canada and thus gifting away most of the alcohol in our liquer cabinet I wanted to try the pretty red Campari and with a smirk my Dad agreed and after a tiny sip of that I was traumatized. Most effective anti-drinking parenting move to date. Reply

  • June 13, 2014 7:30pm

    Even if I didn’t know what this is, I’d be interested based on how beautiful it looks. It’s surprisingly simple too! Reply

  • s
    June 13, 2014 9:59pm

    Just today there was a front page article about revival + research of cocktail culture…I think I have a masters degree in that already!! Reply

  • LJ
    June 13, 2014 11:01pm

    Hey David
    Anytime you feel like opening a test kitchen, let me know! I’m in Paris, have just indulged in the diploma de cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu, and am ready to cook!
    LJ Reply

  • Jo
    June 13, 2014 11:51pm

    Hello David – Do you know about Henrietta Lovell and the Rare Tea Company? If not, you may be interested in her competition: the “Rare Tea Company is holding its first ever cocktail competition this summer as part of our 10th anniversary celebrations and everyone is invited to enter. We want you to create an original tea cocktail that uses one or more teas from our Permanent Collection. For inspiration, please have a look at some of our favourite cocktail recipes made using Rare Tea. ” jo Reply

  • Christina
    June 14, 2014 4:32am

    you had me at hanky panky
    (couldn’t resist)
    you’re hilarious and wonderful Reply

  • June 14, 2014 6:12am

    I love gin, but rarely enjoy it at my age. Not because I don’t want to, but it’s that dad gummed warning my doctor gave me! And no, it’s not the one about drinking and driving. I KNOW that ain’t right! It’s that one about mixing drugs and alcohol. Just broke my heart when he pulled the carpet from underneath my feet, but at my age I’ll be a good girl and not hold it against him. I’ll follow the rules and live until the upstairs office calls. ;)

    But, come closer Honey Bunches, “I’d love to recipe test for you”, and as disappointed as my late ancestors would be to hear that I can’t visit Paris (I’d give my eye-teeth to do so, but putting two daughters through college chewed thru hubs and my travel-the-world dream, No Regrets…kiddos are and always will be worthy of that expense), I can conquer or ruin the kitchen from North Texas, and would be honored to do so.

    I had the great pleasure on testing for Peter Reinhart for two of his books. I’d be over-the-moon to do the same for you. Reply

  • mazz
    June 14, 2014 4:06pm

    i love your books and blog….and have enjoyed your blog for many years……but i no longer get it into my email account……although when i try to reinsert my email address….it says that i am already there……any ideas would be appreciated Reply

  • JudyMac
    June 14, 2014 5:13pm

    The very first cocktail I recalling drinking, many moons ago, was a Sloe Gin Fizz. My was it tasty! I imagine it would still be a nice summer cocktail. My all-time favorite is a tall, very cold Gin & Tonic with a slice of lime, and most preferedly made with Tanqueray gin. It’s also fabulous if you can have it served to you by a gentleman in a white coat either around the pool or while lying on the beach. Reply

  • Michael
    June 15, 2014 2:12pm

    My hubbie and I love gin and decided to reward ourselves with these before dinner last night. Mmmm, mmmm, good. I didn’t have an orange on hand, but they were still terrific without the orange zest strips– though the aroma and taste of the orange oil would have been a delightful addition. Plus this gave us the excuse to buy and try Fernet: What an odd but interesting taste, like sipping minty vetiver. I wasn’t sure how it would play in the cocktails but it took them in just the right direction. And for my taste the orange bitters are a must! Je vous remercie, David! Reply

  • Carla
    June 15, 2014 2:17pm

    To Michael @ 2:12pm. Did you get regular Fernet or Mint Fernet? I’m curious about the minty taste since I’ve never tasted mint in regular Fernet. Reply

  • June 15, 2014 4:42pm

    This looks fantastic, and the story reminds me of the time I asked for a Daiquiri and they made with with lemon instead of lime juice..! Reply

  • Michael
    June 15, 2014 9:56pm

    To Carla @2:17pm on 15 June: No, it’s just the regular “al famoso” Fernet Branca. Just tasted it again, and to me, it tastes minty, particularly at the finish. Might just be my palate… Reply

  • June 17, 2014 11:55pm

    I love this drink. For me the key is in the vermouth selection. Cocchi vermouth di Torino is great in that drink and marries well with the Fernet.
    I like mine more gin- and Fernet-heavy at 2 oz gin, 1.5 oz vermouth, and 1/4 oz Fernet (no orange bitters). Reply

  • dennis
    June 19, 2014 12:01am

    Hanky Panky …
    Gin and I have a relationship, but not a fellowship. I hate it and it tries to obliterate me. So I have gone to my neutral corner and routinely substitute vodka and I am still alive to tell about it. I tried this drink and thank you for it, although for some reason I am sleeping a whole lot better since this experiment began.
    I’m not sure where you get that luscious red colour, perhaps from French sweet vermouth. The Italian Rossi is sort of brown, so I added a glug of grenadine. Worked fine.
    But, how could you specify “3 dashes of Fernet Branca?” You know there is no agreement on how much is in a DASH, don’t you? Please re-direct my thinking and tell me (preferably in millilitres) how much F-B? Reply

    • Carla
      June 19, 2014 12:16am

      Well, I had one of these yesterday and I am sticking with my Negroni. I feel that the Fernet Branca, which I like, takes over the whole thing, even when you only use a tiny little bit. It is a very “overwhelming” flavor – the Campari is much better for me. Reply

    • June 19, 2014 8:08pm
      David Lebovitz

      I don’t think anyone has every quantified the quantity of “a dash” in a cocktail recipe, but bartenders use bottles like these to dispense them. (Since bitters are often used in very slight quantities, you don’t usually see a precise measurement for small amounts of bitters.) So you might want to check those kinds of bottles out for your cocktail-making. There is a discussion here on the subject: How much is a dash? – that offers additional insight. Reply

  • dennis
    June 19, 2014 9:47pm

    How much in a dash of Fernet-Branca?
    Thanks for trying to help. Yesterday was my 75th birthday and I just about ruined it by devoting this huge effort to try getting a mix of components that satisfied me. By the time it came to head out to my celebratory dinner, I consumed ‘w-a-y too much alcohol – all in the name of scientific research of course.
    At the restaurant I hoped to ask the bartender about “how much would there be in 3 dashes of F-B?” Unfortunately, it was the bartender’s night off – I was lucky to find someone with the ability to mix me my two martinis. I will admit that rockets were going off in my head when I awoke during the night, but I think I enjoyed the exercise. Now, off to buy a bottle of Dolin Red Vermouth (sigh!) Reply

  • Carla P
    June 26, 2014 6:08pm

    Have you heard of this? Sounds delicious!
    Upgrade your Negroni with Cinzano
    The classic Negroni of gin, vermouth and Campari proved its mettle in the hall of great drinks, but it has enjoyed the spotlight long enough: Give it a summery pick-me-up by swapping in Cinzano Prosecco (Chin-ZAH-noh).
    Simply fill a lowball with your ingredients: 1½ ounces each of Campari, Cinzano Rosso Vermouth and Cinzano Prosecco. (With over 250 years of experience and bragging rights as the first Italian maker of sparkling wines, Cinzano’s got it down.) Finish it off with the requisite orange slice (see the recipe). The result is a fizzy take on a classic that you can drink from sunup to sundown.

  • Paul
    April 6, 2020 3:20pm

    any sub for the Fernet? All out. Reply

    • April 6, 2020 4:07pm
      David Lebovitz

      You could use another type of amaro, or a French bitters such as China-China. Reply

      • April 6, 2020 4:48pm

        how about mint bitters? Reply

        • April 6, 2020 5:02pm
          David Lebovitz

          Are you thinking of mint bitters like these? I don’t know if I would like mint with the other flavors but if that would be something to your liking, you could add some. Reply

      • Carla P Blanco
        April 6, 2020 5:04pm

        Cynar maybe? Reply

    • April 6, 2020 4:46pm

      That was my question too. Last week I was going to buy the chartreuse for the rosemary gimlet and found it was $56 and I had not even tried it before. So, I ordered a curbside Last word and liked it and will not splurge for the $56 not sure about the Fernet Branca though. would like to try drink but don’t want to spent the $30 fore a bottle Reply

      • April 6, 2020 4:51pm
        David Lebovitz

        The gimlet has gin which is priced less than Chartreuse. But if you want Chartreuse, you can get it in half bottles. Izarra is a lower-priced alternative with more mint/anise flavor, and while not the same as Chartreuse, could be used in its place on some drinks. Reply

      • Carla P Blanco
        April 6, 2020 5:07pm

        The Fernet Branca is an “acquired taste” I would say. Bitter, a little sweet, tastes almost like medicine. Great digestif straight or with a little ice. Reply

  • Susan Lagassee
    April 6, 2020 5:14pm

    Always up for some Hanky Panky!! Really, who isn’t??
    Thanks for reposting! Timing is perfect! Reply

  • JanetL
    April 7, 2020 12:50am

    We love your Apero Hour videos. Could you do one on Martinis and all the lore associated with them? They have always been a mystery to me. Reply

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