Much can be said of the sometimes dubious nature of not only cocktail history but recipe history in general, however, some concoctions genuinely do have a creator, and sometimes the story is about them, not what’s in the glass.
Ada Coleman began her career behind the bar in 1903, at the Claridge Hotel. This wasn’t unusual. That time in London saw an almost even split between women and men working as bartenders. She eventually rose to the position of head bartender at the Savoy Hotel’s famous American Bar. As you might expect, her regulars were often high profile figures, many of the theater, or otherwise entertainers, and would frequent the establishment often.
As suggested by her status, Coleman was known for her creativity, and rightly so. Theater people are artists, and they weren’t the only ones frequenting the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel. Coleman served drinks to the likes of Mark Twain, the Prince of Wales, and one Sir Charles Hawtrey, entertainer and comedian, who, it must be said, had a reputation as a fine judge of cocktails in that Hemingway sort of way. Hawtrey drank, and he liked his drinks strong.
One day in 1925, as reported in an English newspaper, Hawtrey, himself being of some note in the UK society columns of the time, not unlike the royal tabloid stars of today, confessed to asking Coleman for “...something with a bit of punch in it,” to which Coleman replied with a Hanky Panky. Hawtrey embellishes the story by claiming he exclaimed, after tasting, that, “this is the real hanky-panky!” which, in England at the time, meant “magick,” or “witchcraft.”
Shortly thereafter the American Bar closed for renovation, and Coleman retired to great fanfare. Five London papers published stories of her retirement, and she became the subject of interviews and profiles as (this is 1925, remember), “England’s most famous barmaid.” She enjoyed a long retirement, passing in 1966 at the age of 91, and leaving, as part of her legacy, a recipe still served worldwide. In truth, Ada Coleman is one of the genuine innovators of the modern cocktail, and her reputation holds, and why not? The Hanky Panky is still a popular drink, and still poured almost universally exactly as Coleman prescribed.
We love stories like that, and, while we can confirm Coleman did indeed create the Hanky Panky, having published it in 1925, (or, more accurately, having it published for her by the newspapers) we cannot claim Hawtrey’s enthusiasm is entirely authentic. However, it is called Hanky Panky, and it did come from somewhere. We can also confirm, also to Hawtrey’s obvious pleasure, that this is, indeed, a powerful drink.
What Coleman created was a 50/50 sweet Martini, with a dash of Fernet Branca. What good fortune, for we’ve had a bottle of Townshend’s Pacific Northwest Fernet in the cabinet for a while, and have been looking for more things to do with it. Not only is this a local product, but it’s made with local ingredients, and we like that very much. Also, it’s a superb, award winning liqueur, which means matching it with quality ingredients. Our gin for this drink is The Walter Collective Gin, and for the vermouth, we’ve again chosen Ransom Sweet Vermouth. Traditionally, there is no garnish, but the modern interpretation is to garnish with orange peel. All told, this makes a fine after dinner sip, and balances well with just a little bit of the fernet. Pour one after you next feast, or have one as a nightcap after that big night out, and tell us it isn’t the real hanky-panky.
1 1/2 oz The Walter Collective Gin
1 1/2 oz Ransom Sweet Vermouth
1 barspoon Townshend’s Pacific Northwest Fernet
Stir and serve up.
Garnish with an orange peel (optional)