a little hanky panky | gin + blood orange + fernet-branca cocktail

cocktails, drinks, fruits, gin, recipes, winter

the blog

Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is upon us. My boyfriend and I don’t really celebrate the holiday. We figure it’s one of those made-up holidays to make you spend money, feel guilty if you don’t participate, and think something’s wrong with you, if you don’t get anything. Plus, I usually have to work at the restaurant on the 14th, so it never feels really romantic anyway.

My mom, however, is my biggest Valentine to date. On Valentine’s Day, when I was growing up, she would always wake me with pretty hearts filled with chocolates, occasionally with bouquets of flowers, and always with a big hug and a warm smile. Back in high school, I actually never received a Valentine’s Day gift from a guy, so I kind of took a bitter stance on the holiday, despite the generosity of my sweet mom.

I figured I’d make a bittersweet cocktail to celebrate. Something that has a bright, slightly sweet finish, with a feisty, little bite, provided by a dash or two of Fernet-Branca. This is a perfect mid-winter cocktail, appealing to Manhattan-lovers and those with a penchant for all things savory. And celebrating with a cocktail is something we can all agree upon.

blood orange + fernet cocktail | holly & flora

I have a limited, on-again-off-again relationship with Fernet-Branca. A little goes a long way, and if I overdo it, I’ll hide the bottle for a month or so. It eventually makes its way back into my life. This bitter Italian amaro is not for the faint at heart. Its aroma is laced with minty overtones; a hefty dose of bitter, herbal notes; and deep, rich spices. It has quite the strong personality.

I first learned of Fernet-Branca, when I worked behind the bar in a small Italian restaurant several years ago. The waitstaff would take a shot of the stuff together at the end of a shift, whether it was good or bad. I’d quickly down my small portion, and I’d end up making the most hideous face. Let’s just say that Fernet and I didn’t really start out on the right foot.

It was only when I visited Italy that I gave Fernet another chance at being delicious. One morning, after a rather intense evening of wine-tasting, I wandered down the cobbled streets in Alba to a small coffee shop. I must have looked kind of tired {hungover?} because the gentleman behind the bar raised his brows and asked me, “Caffè corretto con Fernet?” My friend assured me that “yes” was the right answer. I was handed an espresso with a shot of Fernet, I took a small sip, and I immediately felt a little better.

Fernet was growing on me.

blood orange + fernet cocktail | holly & flora blood orange + fernet cocktail | holly & flora blood orange + fernet cocktail | holly & flora

Fernet, in fact, is categorized as a digestivo, a bitter, stomach-settling liqueur consumed at the end of a meal. I had many a caffè corretto on that trip, and since then, I’ve enjoyed Fernet after many a heavy meal. If the intensity is too much for you on its own, try adding a little into an espresso or a dash of it into a cocktail, like this one.

One of my favorite cocktails that incorporates Fernet-Branca is a classic cocktail, the Hanky-Panky, invented by famed female bartender, Ada Coleman, in the early 20th century. Her original recipe calls for 1 1/2 ounces of dry gin, 1 1/2 ounces of sweet vermouth, and one bar spoon of Fernet. I put a little twist on this bitter-sweet martini by adding seasonally available blood oranges and a touch of orange bitters.

I’m pretty partial to my rendition.

the $10 greeting card | a twist on the hanky-panky

  1. Juice the blood orange{s}.
  2. In a cocktail mixing glass filled with ice, add the gin, sweet vermouth, blood orange juice, Fernet-Branca, and orange bitters.
  3. Stir for about one minute.
  4. Strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass.
  5. Garnish with an orange peel.

blood orange + fernet cocktail | holly & flora blood orange + fernet cocktail | holly & flora blood orange + fernet cocktail | holly & floraBack to the topic of bitterness, I’m pretty bitter that I didn’t even get to take a sip of these drinks, when I photographed them. Along with committing to running a half-marathon in May, I also gave up alcohol and refined sugar until my birthday in mid-March. It makes my job rather tricky with the whole wine-tasting thing and all. I just might have to sneak a little bubbles tonight. We have almost 600 {as. in. people.} reservations this evening. I am thinking I’ll need a nightcap.

Or two.

Well, happy Valentine’s Day to its lovers and its haters! I’m curious – do you have a favorite cocktail that incorporates Fernet-Branca? What are you planning on sipping this evening? I am a lot of talk, but I’ll most likely behave and have some sparkling water with a splash of one of the shrubs I’ve been making – probably the blood orange shrub. More on that project later!



PS – Mad props to Andy of Liquorary for scouting out the amazing vintage Libby coupes I used in these photos! I have been coupe-less for several years, and they arrived just in time for this shoot. Check out his Etsy shop, as its barware contents change all the time. He also makes some pretty neat cocktails every Friday over at Oh So Beautiful Paper.

For now, yay for new glassware!!

blood orange + fernet cocktail | holly & flora blood orange + fernet cocktail | holly & flora

  1. I’ve always been a fan of strong personalities. Particularly when it comes to cocktails. I think this drink should have been named “Something Kristy Needs to Make” – though I don’t think it’d be very good for SEO 😉 Nor would it be very enticing to the rest of your readership. But it’s pretty much perfect for me. So that’s what I’ll call it.

    I’ve never actually had Fernet-Branca but I’m definitely going to go find me a bottle. It sounds intoxicating. Figuratively and literally.

    This evening I’ll probably finish off the last of some red wine sitting on my counter. I have fabulous friends but they don’t quite have fabulous taste in wine so I choke it back or cook with it on Sundays. Why Sunday? Why not?

    Lastly, I’m going to go check out buddy’s store. I LOVE good barware and the vintage Libby coupes you used here are stunning. STUNNING. Like you 😉

    PS. I’ll bet your mom is the cutest lady in the world. It’s so sweet that you called her your valentine.

    • You crack me up so hard! You know, I WILL think up a bourbon-y cocktail for you, and I will name it “Something Kristy Needs to Make”! And, yes, you should make this one, too. 😉 And thanks to you, I am slowllllyyyyy maximizing my SEO abilities! Seriously, thanks!

      Fernet-Branca is definitely different! I seriously used to hate it, but it has a secured place in my heart. Did you know that the unofficial national “cocktail” of Argentina is Fernet and Coca-Cola? Craziness! When Steve went down for a trip last summer, he would see five billboards for Fernet within a few blocks of each other. And, of course, he consumed his fair share of them each evening. #worsthangoversever

      Looks like you visited Andy’s shop! Yippee! He scores some fun glasses, for sure. I’m going back for seconds, when the funds let me do so.

      PS – My mom knows you as “Kristy from Canada” – and she is blushing! 😉

  2. onemartiniatatime says:

    Gin and blood orange anything and I’m guaranteed to love it!

    And thanks for the tip on the glasses, I just found some cute martini glasses that I can’t wait to use for pictures (and drinking)!

    • Hello, Jessica! I’m so happy you found Andy’s Etsy shop. I have a feeling it will get me into trouble in the near future. I have my eyes set on a couple of glassware sets. I just need to pace my spending habits! 😉

      I am also a sucker for gin and blood orange anything. What has been your favorite combination? And what has been your favorite gin recently? I owe you a catch-up email and will do that tomorrow! Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  3. hoochandhome says:

    made this with grapefruit instead because it was all I had and it was AWESOME!!!! thanks!

    • Yayyyyy! So happy you made it! I am sure that it tasted great with grapefruit. In fact, I have some in my fruit bowl right now, so I will try one out, as well. It is snowing as I type right now, and having all the citrus around definitely perks me up and distracts me from the cold!

      So, I saw you made your Bee’s Knees served up, martini-style?! How did you like the taste? It is quite the boozy cocktail, but all of that lemon, along with the honey syrup, kind of cuts it. …and how do I get an invite to that 1920s Jazz Age Lawn Party?! I need an excuse to break out some fun accessories and possibly expand my dancing repertoire!

  4. […] my creativity to serious lengths. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made orange marmalade, blood orange and bourbon cocktails, and even some Campari-spiked orange sherbet, so tangerine margaritas were only a natural […]

  5. Gail Henderson says:

    I wondered where you got the glassware. Really like your very interesting post & Kristy from Canada’s reply! You’re still my Valentine, and I’m yours! – always. 🙂

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