Paper Plane Cocktail

Paper Plane Cocktail

The Paper Plane is a bright and complex equal-parts cocktail. It is anchored by bourbon whiskey, layered with citrus-forward bitter amari, and brightened with lemon juice. It’s perfectly balanced like a paper plane flying through the air.

No syrups, muddling, or infusions are needed for this drink. If you can juice a lemon, you can make a Paper Plane. It contains proportionate amounts of bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice. Equal-parts cocktails like the Negroni, Last Word, and Paper Plane are great recipes to keep in your back pocket for mixing up at happy hour—they’re easy and impressive in equal measure. 

The Origins of the Paper Plane

The Paper Plane was created by Sam Ross who also mixed up the Penicillin cocktail. While working at the Violet Hour in Chicago in 2008, he whipped up a riff on the Last Word named for the M.I.A. song that was popular at the time. It has since become a modern classic cocktail.

What is Amaro Nonino?

Amaro Nonino is a delicious addition to any home bar with citrus, thyme, licorice, and gentian notes. The Paper Plane usually calls for Amaro Nonino, but you might have an easier time finding and affording Averna, which does just as well in this cocktail. 

How to Serve the Paper Plane

Paper Planes are classically served up in a coupe glass with a lemon peel zested over the drink and garnished with a twist. For a real show-stopper, consider adding a mini paper plane attached to the rim for a fun, kitschy garnish. I sometimes like to top a Paper Plane with some sparkling wine for a spritzy drink to pair with tinned fish and cheese for aperitivo hour. Bitter, sweet, tart, and citrusy, the Paper Plane is a great drink to mix up all year round.

Tips for Mixing Up a Paper Plane

  • You can substitute another amaro for the Amaro Nonino, which might be hard to find and be cost prohibitive. I like to use Averna or Amaro Montenegro as they are delicious, more common, and go great in other cocktails. Another amaro will make the drink slightly different as the botanicals and herbs used will vary, but experimenting is part of the fun when making cocktails.
  • Make sure to shake the cocktail thoroughly. Count up to 10 while you shake. Shaking not only chills the cocktail but dilutes it just a touch to make it more palatable and open up the flavors of the spirits. It also changes the texture of the drink by aerating it slightly.
  • Fresh lemon juice is mandatory for this cocktail. Don't even think of mixing this with bottled lemon juice, which is flat-tasting.

“The Paper Plane cocktail is a delicious chilled cocktail, served straight up. It has a bittersweet and slightly herbal flavor from equal amounts of amaro, Aperol, and lemon juice. The bourbon provides a nice solid back note to the other flavors. The Paper Plane is a good choice for those who enjoy a complex, but not overly sweet cocktail.” —Joan Velush

Paper plane cocktail in a coupe glass with a lemon twist A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • 3/4 ounce bourbon

  • 3/4 ounce Amaro Nonino

  • 3/4 ounce Aperol

  • 3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

  • Lemon twist and/or optional mini paper plane, for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make a Paper Plane cocktail

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Add the bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol, and lemon juice to a shaker. Add ice to fill the shaker 2/3 full and shake for 10 seconds.

    Bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol, and lemon juice with a glass of ice and a cocktail shaker

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  3. Strain into a coupe glass.

    A Paper Place cocktail in a coupe glass

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Express the lemon peel over the drink: face the peel-side down in between your fingers and squeeze it over the cocktail.

    A hand expressing a lemon peel into a cocktail

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

  5. Garnish with a lemon twist and a mini paper plane, if desired.

    A Paper Plane cocktail garnished with a small paper plane and a lemon peel

    The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Recipe Variations

  • Adding 1 ounce of sparkling wine and an additional 1/4 ounce of Aperol makes for a delightful spritz. 
  • Lime juice can be used in place of the lemon for a more tart drink.

How to Make Paper Planes for a Crowd

To make a large batch of Paper Planes for a party, follow these steps:

  1. Multiply each ingredient in the cocktail by the number of servings you want to make.
  2. Use the resulting numbers to help you figure out how many bottles of each ingredient you’ll need to buy. Remember that drinks are usually sold in 750mL bottles. 750mL is approximately 25 1/4 ounces.
  3. Once you have your ingredients, measure them out according to the math you did in Step 1.
  4. Mix the ingredients together, place in a serving vessel, and chill well.
  5. For each cocktail, measure out 3 ounces of the batched cocktail, shake with ice, and strain. Garnish and serve.

Read more about how to batch cocktails here.

What Kind of Liquor is Aperol?

Aperol is a style of drink called amaro which means bitter in Italian. Amari (plural for amaro) can vary vastly from one-to-the-next depending on the ingredients used to make them as well as their ABV. Aperol is sweet and sits at 11% abv with a prominent bitter orange flavor.

How Strong is a Paper Plane?

The Paper Plane is around 17 percent ABV (34 proof), making it around half as strong as a high proof cocktail like a Manhattan.

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