Hanky Panky Cocktail

November 21, 2019 (Last Updated: May 29, 2020) by Chef Molly

The Hanky Panky Cocktail is a cocktail invented in the early 1900s featuring gin, sweet vermouth, and fernet branca. The perfect mix of sweet and bitter!

hanky panky cocktail with shaker and orange in background

Several years ago, my husband started a regular Friday tradition of making me my favorite drink, the Hanky Panky Cocktail. I figure this is more than fair as I have done all the grocery shopping and put dinner on our table all week. (With attention to both vegetarian child and picky eater child.) Back in the States, he worked from home, and sometimes worked late. I tried to be patient on Friday nights but as 5pm turned into 6pm, then 7pm, and sometimes 8pm, I would send him a series of more and more desperate texts and gifs to lovingly encourage him to get his butt downstairs and make me a damn cocktail. Yes, I could make it myself, but see above re: grocery shopping and dinner ALL WEEK. 

hanky panky cocktail with orange

Since we moved to France, there has been a lot of wine on the table but no cocktails. For one thing, there were no cocktail glasses in our apartment, and, I wasn’t sure I could find the ingredients I needed. But when browsing at the Monoprix the other day I spotted all three of the required bottles! And, I did some prop shopping at Emmaus (the French version of Goodwill) and found a cocktail glass for about one euro. Sold. Friday cocktail night is officially back on chez Pisula! 

I can’t take credit for this recipe, because we learned about it at a seminar run by the Museum of the American Cocktail, based in New Orleans. One of the founders travels frequently to D.C. and holds cocktail seminars every few months. The seminars are great fun—with delicious drinks, of course, but also often a history lesson on where and when a certain cocktail was invented. A seminar on cocktails invented in hotel bars introduced us to the Hanky Panky. Read on for some history…

Who invented the Hanky Panky Cocktail?

The Hanky Panky is credited to Ada Coleman, the first female head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London. To date she is one of only two women to hold that position, which she was promoted to in 1903. She held the position for 23 years, serving luminaries including Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, the Prince of Wales, and Mark Twain. The story goes that she loved creating new cocktails, and created one for one of her regulars, a comic actor named Charles Hawtrey. Upon tasting the drink, he exclaimed, “By Jove! This is the real hanky-panky!” And so my favorite cocktail was named.

How do you make a Hanky Panky Cocktail?

Making a Hanky Panky is quite easy. You just combine equal parts sweet vermouth and gin, and add a couple of splashes of Fernet Branca. To begin, grab your ingredients, including an orange.

ingredients for hanky panky cocktail

In a cocktail shaker over ice, combine 1.5 ounces of gin, 1.5 ounces of sweet vermouth, and 2 dashes of Fernet Branca. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off a twist of orange, and add to your glass. Serve!

peeling orange twist from an orange with shaker in background

What else can you do with Fernet Branca?

Now that you’ve bought a big bottle of Fernet, what can you do with it? Fernet is bitter enough that a little goes a long way (though some people do drink it by itself as a digestif!). Add a bit of Fernet Branca to prosecco or sparkling wine for a champagne cocktail—choose a sparkling wine on the sweeter side for the best balance.  In South America, especially Argentina, Coke with Fernet Branca is a popular drink. In San Francisco, you’ll find bar patrons chasing shots of Fernet with ginger ale. Interestingly, in the U.S., pharmacies sold Fernet during Prohibition because of its purported health benefits. Most of those have been debunked but I’m sure glad Fernet is still around.

If you’re looking for other fun cocktail recipes, don’t miss my White Wine Sangria with Strawberries, my Cranberry Mimosa, my Blood Orange Margarita, and my Strawberry Mimosa. Need some nibbles with your cocktail? Check out these great appetizer recipes:

hanky panky cocktail with shaker and orange in background

Hanky Panky Cocktail

Yield: Serves 1
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

The Hanky Panky Cocktail is a cocktail invented in the early 1900s featuring gin, sweet vermouth, and fernet branca. The perfect mix of sweet and bitter!


  • 1.5 oz. Gin
  • 1.5 oz. Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 dashes Fernet Branca
  • twist of orange peel


    1. In a cocktail shaker over ice, combine gin, sweet vermouth, and Fernet Branca.
    2. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass.
    3. Serve with a twist of orange.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 176Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 5mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 0g

Nutrition information is provided as a general reference for users courtesy of the online nutrition calculator Nutritionix.

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  • Reply
    November 22, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    this sounds like a lovely thanksgiving cocktail! can’t wait to try it!

    • Reply
      Chef Molly
      November 26, 2019 at 6:06 pm

      Yes! Just switch to wine after one because this cocktail is not messing around.

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