Welcome To Wonkette Happy Hour, With This Week's Cocktail, The Rufty Tufty!
Greetings, Wonketeers! I’m Hooper, your bartender. I recently saw a classic cocktail pop up at the local high-end bars for Valentine’s Day. The Hanky Panky dates back to 1903, and the ingredients seemed enticing. I tried it. My wife tried it. And then I made something better. Let’s have some Rufty Tuftys. Here’s the recipe.
1.5 oz Beefeater Gin
1.5 oz Carpano Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz Cherry Heering
.5 oz demerara syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir all ingredients over ice in a cocktail stirring glass. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with the orange twist.
The original Hanky Panky is equal parts gin and sweet vermouth, with a few dashes of Fernet Branca and a lemon twist. Ada Coleman, who preceded Harry Craddock as head bartender of the Savoy Hotel, created it when Sir Charles Hawtrey, a celebrated actor of the day, stormed into the bar demanding something with “punch.” She offered him this variation on the Martinez. After a few sips, he exclaimed, “By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!” The name stuck.
I can see why this one appeared on Valentine’s Day menus. For starters, there’s the name. How can you not serve up some hanky panky on Valentine’s Day? The story of the drink is interesting. And it features some of the darlings of mixology — nice gin, a good sweet vermouth, and our shot of choice, Fernet Branca. I’ve written before about how this strong, bitter, mentholated liquor keeps us propped up at 1 a.m. on a Saturday night. A little dash of this sounds like it would be great with the right backbone, right?
Well … not really. Just because bartenders love a thing doesn’t mean that non-cocktail nerds will love it with equal fervor. The Fernet Branca proved to be far more potent in this drink than I liked. A little menthol goes a long, long way, and while the cocktail was drinkable before stirring, chilling the drink made the whole experience … memorable. And not in a good way.
I didn’t panic (much). I understood what the drink was trying to accomplish. The Martinez was a great platform for a potent liqueur to stand on. It just needed something friendlier than the Fernet Branca. I had several likely candidates lurking in the cabinet, but I decided on Cherry Heering. Sweetened with a little demerara syrup and mellowed with orange bitters, the final result was fruity, herbal, and elegant. A perfect late-winter cocktail, and a refined way to start the festivities for any weekend.
Let’s talk ingredients:
Ingredient shot. The cocktail flirted off seductively after this photo was taken. Matthew Hooper
Beefeater Gin: There are better, and more expensive, gins out there, and I like seeing creative distillers build on the category. That being said, I love Beefeater. It’s the standard juniper-based gin, dating back to 1862. Whenever I’m building a classic cocktail, I go back to Beefeater as my base. And hands down, it makes the best gin and tonics out there.
Sweet vermouth: Sweet vermouth is a core component of many classic cocktails. If we left off the liqueur and other fiddly bits and just drank the gin and vermouth, we’d be sipping on a Martinez — a precursor to the modern martini — and we’d still be having a great time. The Martinez is quite nice all on its own. But much like the margarita, the Martinez is a terrific platform for all sorts of spirit-forward flavors. I’m sticking with Carpano sweet vermouth for now, but this would be the place to splurge on something pricier.
Cherry Heering: This herbal cherry-flavored liqueur seemed on point to me for a Valentine-oriented drink. But I’m not wedded to it as the only solution for fixing a Hanky Panky. Any sweet liqueur with potent flavor can go in this glass and make a great cocktail. Grand Marnier would be a terrific choice. Jagermeister is daring, but could be rewarding.
Demerara syrup: The Heering was a little too bitter for this drink. The sugar brightened the cocktail and let the fruit notes shine. One part sugar in the raw, one part water, heat until dissolved.
Orange bitters: Some more fruit to balance the drink. Angostura bitters would be fine here, especially if you chose an herbal liqueur instead of a fruity one.
Orange twist: Don’t skip this. The scent of the orange peel will sharpen the drink and make the fruit notes more prominent.
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