Some English Hanky Panky

I mean, when a cocktail is already called a Hanky Panky, what else is there to say? This was my first go at incorporating Asterley Bros Britannica Fernet into a drink that doesn’t make my friends hate me. I think it worked.

Oh relax. It’s just a bloody cocktail, you prude.

A bottle of Asterley Bros Britannica Fernet (£32.95 from The Whisky Exchange) showed up in my latest booze delivery. As you may have gathered, I’m intrigued by the alcoholic antics of the Asterleys. I’m also a Fernet novice. That’s one reason why I’m not going to attempt a ‘review’ of this critter: for once, I’m sufficiently conscious of my own ignorance to be deterred.

I did, though, have the pleasure of passing a glass of the stuff round at a gathering of chums, the other night — and hearing one after the other give some variation of the theme of, ‘Whhheeeuooargh!’ as the tastebrains of each scrambled to process their first mouthful.

I enjoy a little light libationary sadism.

Which is by way of saying: Britannica Fernet (in common with Fernet in general, I believe) is not the easiest of beverages.

I’m pretty sure that neat, over ice, it’ll be a grower. But I’m going to have to work at it.

Meanwhile, though, I have a more accessible means by which to unlock its charms:

Closeup of the surface of an English Hanky Panky cocktail

English Hanky Panky Recipe

A fantastic cocktail with a stupid name but which is really, I suppose, simply a negroni variation: Fernet hoofs Campari out of its usual place in the mix. I’m calling this one the English Hanky Panky because, well, all the ingredients (except the orange twist, I guess) are from this screwed up, snarling little brat of a country. Here’s how to make one.

  • 1 part London Gin (something like Tanqueray, Sipsmith or Gordon’s)
  • 1 part red vermouth (I’m using Asterley Bros Estate Vermouth, £23.25 from The Whisky Exchange)
  • ½ part Fernet (I’m using Asterley Bros Britannica Fernet)

Add gin, vermouth and fernet to a mixing glass/shaker filled with ice. Stir (gently yet firmly, y’know) for a good 20-30 seconds, so that everything gets good and chilly. Then strain into a cocktail glass (ideally one that’s been lingering deep in the recesses of your freezer for just such a purpose). Twist a length of orange peel over the surface of the drink so that the oils squeeze out, then drop the twist into the drink.

You can vary the amount of Fernet according to the amount of bitterness that lingers within your soul. I find the above ratio is bracing without allowing the Fernet to overpower the rest.

It’s a bloody delicious alternative to the Negroni and I love the fact that the Britannica Fernet’s bitterness, whilst brutal, isn’t confected or sugary.

Hanky Panky cocktail in a martini glass with twist of orange. Made from gin, vermouth and fernet.

Any more Fernet cocktail recipes? Let me know…

Booze of the Week: Nordesia Red Vermouth

Nordesia Red Vermouth may initially get you a few weird looks at a party. But those looks will quickly turn worshipful when the buggers actually try the stuff, I’ll warrant.

I blame the Asterley Brothers.

Ever since I snagged that bottle of their English Red Vermouth, I’ve been mildly obsessed with seeking out new (to me) vermouths.

The obsession was further fueled by two charming chaps I met at a party who had brought along a bottle of Spanish vermouth. What a splendid drink to bring to a party, eh?

Stop staring at me like that. It’s disconcerting.

So I snouted and snuffled around the vermouthy category at The Whisky Exchange and turfed up this opaque-bottled charmer, Nordesia Red Vermouth (The Whisky Exchange, £22.25). It comes in a litre bottle (cue further party cred) and is made in Galicia from the Mencia grape.

So let’s crack it open.

Wow, blimey, it’s spicy. Cinnamon is the biggie — heaps of it — but ginger and vanilla too. Along with the cinnamon, the other thing that hits you in force is red berry fruit (sour cherries) overlaid with orange oils. Like Asterley Bros Vermouth, it’s built on a foundation of red wine not white, and you can feel it in the tannins. I enjoy the extra depth, the grab. It also has a fair old dose of well-integrated bitterness. I’d read that Spanish Vermouths tend to be lighter and more accessible than French or Italian, but I wouldn’t say Nordesia Tinto bears that out: it’s certainly not what I’d call light. Set aside a glass of Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, this is clearly the more challenging to drink on its own.

That’s not to say it’s challenging in any kind of pejorative sense. It’s a bloody delight.

I’m drinking it neat over ice with a twist of orange peel and that’s how I’d recommend you drink it too, if you please. It’s an entirely different beast from your usual Martini-style vermouths, as you’ve probably gathered by now, and extremely well-suited to drinking in this way. I’ve experimented with Nordesia Vermouth in the context of various cocktails and haven’t yet found one in which it shines. In a Negroni, it’s tough to balance; none of the gins I’ve tried it with has harmonised well. It makes a pleasant enough — if rather spikey — Manhattan, but I’d say other vermouths fit that cocktail considerably better.

But that’s fine by me. The joy of having a bottle of red vermouth open is that you can happily pour yourself a glass on a week night — and keep to just a glass. That’s a feat I find near-impossible with a bottle of wine, so conscious am I of the perils of oxidation. With your red vermouth, you can keep it happily enough in the fridge for a week or two and it holds onto its flavour and freshness pretty well. It makes for a simple and self-contained aperitif, no faffing with shakers or fumbling for multiple bottles, and a mid-week-friendly ABV of 15%.

But you and your mates are going to down the bottle in one sitting anyway, aren’t you? You goddamn sophisticated party animals.