Recipe: Ada Coleman’s Hanky Panky

Cocktail connoisseurs will want to check out Amanda Schuster’s new book, Signature Cocktails, showcasing 200 iconic drinks from around the globe and across history

If you love a cocktail, you’ll find plenty to whet your whistle this month, not only is Cocktail Week coming to the Capital’s best bars from 12-22 October, but Phaidon are also publishing a terrific tome celebrating the very best tipples. From drinks expert Amanda Schuster, Signature Cocktails chronologically traces the cocktail’s development through a series of iconic drinks, spanning well-known classics and more experimental concoctions. The book opens with Atholl Brose, created in 1475 in the highlands for a Scottish Earl and made with a heroic amount of oats, honey, and whisky. So much more than simply a recipe book, this is an unprecedented history of the most legendary drinks. In an extract here, Amanda shares one of the famous cocktails that originated right here in London, in 1918. “In 1903, at a time when women bartenders were referred to as ‘barmaids’ and rarely found behind the bar in the first place, Ada Coleman became the first female head bartender of the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel in London.

It has been widely reported that the natural magnetism of the twenty-four-year-old, known by the nickname Coley, soon charmed the regular clientele, such as Charlie Chaplin, Mark Twain, the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), and Marlene Dietrich, among many others. Coley held the position well into the 1920s, famously overlapping with Harry Craddock, who had come over from New York. Around that time, the comedy actor Charles Hawtrey would often come to see her, and, according to a 1925 interview with her in People magazine, he would say, ‘“Coley, I am tired. Give me something with a bit of punch in it.” It was for him that I spent hours experimenting until I had invented a new cocktail.’ She eventually came up with the recipe for what became a cocktail menu staple around the world – the boozy, stirred combination of gin, sweet vermouth, and the bracing Italian amaro Fernet-Branca (the ingredient that delivers the ‘punch’ bit).

The article reported that when Hawtrey took his first sip, he declared, ‘By Jove, this is the real hanky panky!’ That phrase has a cheekier meaning now, but at the time it was slang referring to something wildly good. Indeed, it’s a mixture of ingredients that don’t sound as though they would work well together, but somehow, in the right proportions, it’s quite the charmer.”


11/2 oz (45 ml) gin | 11/2 oz (45 ml) sweet vermouth | 2 dashes Fernet-Branca | Garnish: orange twist (this part really pulls the flavours together)


  1. Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir with ice until well chilled.
  2. Strain into a chilled Nick & Nora or coupe glass, express the peel over the drink, and add to the glass.

Signature Cocktails by Amanda Schuster (£29.95, hardback) is published on 5 October (