Like Negronis? Fan of absinthe? Try mixing them together in this classic drink.
Some cocktails have a well-known (or well-debated) history. Others just seem to appear in a book without any comment. And then there are those that give you a sense that there's a little more to the story, but you just can't seem to piece it together. The Quill is one of those drinks.
In my newer edition of Harry's ABC of Mixing Cocktails, the Quill is credited to a guy by the name of Frank C. Payne in New York. There's no date attached (although for what it's worth, the drink isn't in MacElhone's 1927 Barflies and Cocktails). After searching a number of older books, I can't find the drink mentioned anywhere else.
So I'm left with this Payne character. Who was he and what does he have to do with a drink that's essentially a Negroni, but with some absinthe added?
It turns out that Frank C. Payne was a theatrical press agent in the early 1900s, when shows that traveled on the road brought in significant income from audiences outside of the Big Apple. Unfortunately, with the rise of the movie business, interest in these traveling shows began to dwindle.
In order to help bolster these road shows (and to preserve their salaries), a bunch of press agents got together and formed a union of sorts: the TPROA: Theatrical Press Representatives of America. Our man Payne was active in this group, which happened to publish a magazine in the 1920s and 30s to promote their agenda. Its name: The Quill.
And there, the trail gets cold for me. Know more about this classic drink? Let's share over a cocktail.
On the surface the Quill is simply a Negroni with a little absinthe thrown in, but that small change really changes the dynamics of the drink.
Give it a sniff: this cocktail has the same citrusy scent as a Negroni, but with a nice herbal touch added in. The flavor is Negroni through and through, yet the absinthe is subtly there in the background, adding an herbal, anise-laced flavor that mingles with the Campari, gin, and vermouth, without overtaking the drink. It works.
To my surprise, anyone who likes Campari seems to enjoy this one—even people who aren't big on absinthe.
Since adding absinthe to a Negroni is tasty, I decided to try tossing it into a few other related cocktails. Add absinthe to a Boulevardier? Do it. And it turns out that a little absinthe is also great in an Americano, Campari Spritz, and Negroni Sbagliato. I took my cues from these last three, creating a sort of hybrid.
My variation, the Plume, starts with Campari and a bit of absinthe. I kept the seltzer component of the Americano and Campari Spritz, as well as the sparkling wine used in the Sbagliato and Spritz. The result is bubbly and refreshing with great citrus and herb aspects and a lightly bittered flavor.
In place of traditional sweet vermouth, I went with Cocchi Rosa. This rosy liquid comes from the makers of Cocchi Americano. It's lighter and less sweet than a typical sweet vermouth, with that awesome quinine flavor of Cocchi Americano. This works great in the Plume, but you could certainly sub in a traditional sweet vermouth if you prefer.
About the author: Nick Caruana is the author of The Straight Up, where he shares his love of classic and modern cocktails, including a slight obsession with whiskey, bitters and amari. Stalk him on Twitter @The_Straight_Up, Facebook, and other social media outlets.