Serious Eats: Recipes

Hanky Panky

[Photo: Jessica Leibowitz]

The bitter Italian liqueur Fernet Branca is a beneficent bully. Formulated as a digestivo in the mid-19th century, Fernet Branca has a blend of botanicals, including cardamom, chamomile, saffron and rhubarb, that together work some sort of gastronomic magic to dispel the discomfort of overindulging at mealtime. And the bully part? This same mix of ingredients has a flavor so bracingly bitter and complex that a first encounter is usually seared into a drinker's memory.

This powerful flavor makes Fernet Branca tricky to work with as a cocktail ingredient. Not content to play a supporting role, Fernet Branca has a knack for taking over any drink that incorporates it as an ingredient. Fortunately, there are a few cocktails that play to Fernet Branca's strengths; we've previously explored one of them, the Toronto, but here's another that uses the digestivo to good effect.

The Hanky Panky originated at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London in the early 20th century. Developed by head bartender Ada Coleman, the Hanky Panky matches Fernet Branca's distinctive character with the botanicals found in gin and sweet vermouth to create a rich blend of flavors--a blend that lets the pushy liqueur remind you of its better side.

Note: Some bartenders adjust the drink's proportions to create a drier cocktail; for that version, try 2 ounces of gin, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth and 1/4 ounce of Fernet Branca. Both versions are worth a try.

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