Intro to Fernet: Hanky Panky & the Jitterbug

My first exposure to fernet was after a meal at one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, Carriage House (now closed, we miss you!)
I had been seeing ads all over town for this mysterious “Fernet Branca” (e.g., one pictured a woman walking an alligator; perhaps this is normal in Florida…another showed a pinup girl sitting at a bar in a navy-styled corset and fishnet stockings, holding up a glass. The ads read: “shockingly unique”…) Well, curiosity eventually took hold & I finally decided to give it a try.

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After dinner I ordered a shot of fernet (unbeknownst to me that it is an excellent digestif…) Once it was brought to the table, I took a whiff of the dark substance and was a bit shocked by the sensory signals my brain was receiving. “Shockingly Unique” indeed!! I took a moment to ponder my life choices; then I reminded myself, “Well, it’s sitting in front of you, there’s no going back now…” and tossed it back. “WHOA!! That’s aggressive!” – Was all I could get out. It was at that point I realized that this was not something those girls in the ads would probably imbibe while out on the town during a gator-toting girls night. Furthermore, I was not convinced that I would ever have it again…

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Fast forward to the present. I now have a couple of different bottles of fernet on our home bar and feel that perhaps without fernet a bar is not exactly “a bar” at all. Much the same as mezcal and Campari, fernet is a bit of an acquired taste. Your first taste may not be “heaven in a glass”; it may be just the opposite! However, if you take some time & give it another chance (perhaps in small doses) you might find yourself eating a few of your own words. I know I did. It’s always the ones that play hard to get…
That being said, sometimes when looking through different cocktail books a set of ingredients catch your eye. The other day I was looking for a morning pick-me-up while having a bit of a boozy-kick to it and stumbled upon the Jitterbug in the Canon Cocktail Book. Utilizing espresso, sweet vermouth, fernet and orange bitters the Jitterbug doesn’t sound like a morning stroll through the park; it sounds like an 8 second bull ride and a boot in the pants! However, this cocktail works, quite well as a matter of fact and has had me quoted saying “Now THIS is the best part of waking up!”

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The same day I was thumbing through the Amaro book and stumbled across the Hanky Panky cocktail. It was in that moment I realized that the Jitterbug was in fact a morning-after riff on the Hanky Panky cocktail 100 years in the making!! How cool is that?!
So, let’s go back around 100 years and across the pond to London; the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel to be exact. Ada Coleman is currently managing the bar and Harry Craddock has not even arrived on the scene. One of Ada’s signature cocktails is the Hanky Panky (so named for a customer’s response: “That’s the real hanky-panky!!”) and I must agree, that particular description even a century later, is still dead on.

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Hanky Panky
  • 1.5oz London Dry Gin
  • 1.5 oz Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
  • 2 Dashes (.25oz) Fernet Branca
  • Garnish Option: Expressed Orange Peel
    Stir all ingredients with ice; strain into a coupe glass.
This cocktail is a bitter-sweet treat! Possibly best as a night-cap, this cocktail is better than the sum of all of its parts. It’s a delicious blend of dry botanicals, a full-bodied sweet presence with a touch of vanilla & orange peel then finally a kick of bitter strength to even the scales. I could not have imagined this cocktail would work as well as it does. If you haven’t had it and you’re not a fan of fernet quite yet, I believe this cocktail is the best candidate to make a believer out of you.
Fast forward around 100 years and cross back over the Atlantic to a little town called Seattle, Washington, specifically a cocktail bar known as Canon. Jamie Bordreau and his team of bartenders are crafting up a somewhat similar cocktail with a bit of a morning-after feel to it. Called the Jitterbug, it is an espresso cocktail with a similar set of ingredients to the Hanky Panky, yet a very different vibe…

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Jitterbug
  • 1.5oz Espresso
  • 1oz Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
  • .25oz Fernet Branca
  • .25oz Simple Syrup
  • 3 Dashes Orange Bitters
  • Garnish Option: Freshly Grated Nutmeg
    Shake all ingredients with ice; strain over ice into a double-rocks glass or collins glass
I’m not sure if the Jitterbug was a concept cocktail with the idea of a riff on the Hanky Panky all along or if it was just (as Bob Ross would say) a happy accident. Either way, both the ingredients and the name seem to give a somewhat cheeky nod back to the Hanky Panky and remarkably, regardless of the drastic change in the main ingredient, stirred vs shaken, styling, etc… they both work quite well! Whether you are on top of the world having a Hanky Panky or you’re “waking up before they go-go” these cocktails are delicious in each of their own rights. And all thanks to a bit of wild, crazy fernet…
Cheers Friends!

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