Paper Plane Cocktail

5 from 1 vote
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The Paper Plane is a modern-day classic cocktail made with equal parts bourbon, Amaro Nonino (bittersweet Italian Liqueur), Aperol, and fresh lemon juice. It’s a citrusy smooth and well-balanced cocktail with similar characteristics to the sidecar or brown derby.

Brief History

The Paper Plane was created by New York bartender, Sam Ross, of Attaboy speakeasy in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 2008. Sam created the cocktail for a Chicago bar named The Violet Hour. The cocktail is one of the many riffs on the Last Word, which also contains four ingredients in equal parts. See also, Naked and Famous for another mezcal twist on the Paper Plane.

The cocktail was originally served with a tiny paper plane, which of course adds to the allure and overall presentation. You don’t need to be good at origami to pull it off, however, I usually skip this step at home unless I’m really trying to impress myself.

Why This Recipe Works

  • The Paper Plane is the perfect balance of bitterness, sweetness, and citrus. It’s refreshing and smooth and has thirst-quenching qualities without feeling heavy.

Ingredients

Paper Plane cocktail ingredients laid out on a wooden cutting.
  • Bourbon: your favorite bourbon should do the trick. I love Larceny and Elijah Craig as my standby for most bourbon cocktails. My only advice is to avoid higher 100+ proof bourbons as they will dominate the drink.
  • Aperol: famous from the Aperol Spritz, Aperol is an Italian bitter apéritif made from gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona that has strong bitter orange notes.
  • Amaro: Amaro Nonino is the preferred amaro for this cocktail. There are countless amaros available however they are not all interchangeable. Nonino is lighter and more citrusy with much less caramel and sweetness than many other amaro offerings. Amaro Averna or Montenegro can be substituted but it will be a very different experience.
  • Lemon juice: always opt for fresh citrus. Use a citrus squeezer to easily and efficiently juice lemons.

How to Make a Paper Plane Cocktail

Step 1.

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with a large cup of ice.

Pouring a jigger of bourbon into a metal cocktail shaker.

Step 2.

Gently shake or stir for 10 seconds and double strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Double straining a Paper Plane cocktail into a frozen coupe glass.

Step 3.

Optionally garnish with a tiny paper plane if you have way too much time on your hands! Just cut a small rectangle and fold it like your typical paper plane. You can get tiny clothespins here.

A Paper Plane cocktail garnished with a tiny blue paper plane held on with a mini clothespin.

Expert Tips

  • Always pre-chill your glasses with ice water or place them in the freezer! This keeps your drinks cooler for much longer.
  • This cocktail should not be over shaken in order to preserve the overall body and not introduce too much water. Double straining with a fine mesh strainer will filter out tiny ice chips.
  • I’ve also used Amaro Averna and Amaro Montenegro as substitutes. It works but my favorite is Nonino by far.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Amaro liqueur?

Amaro is a bitter Italian liqueur typically sipped neat as an after-dinner digestif. It’s dark and syrupy in color and consistency and has herbal, citrusy, sweet, and bitter characteristics.

Can I use any Amaro for this recipe?

Amaro Nonino was the original Amaro liqueur intended for the Paper Plane. What makes it unique is its lighter color and profile compared to darker amaro. I’ve tried this cocktail with Averna and Montenegro amaros as substitutes and while it’s good, it just doesn’t hit the same.

What’s the best bourbon for a paper plane?

I like Buffalo Trace, Larceny, Elijah Craig, Woodford Reserve, Eagle Rare, Knob Creek, Rowan’s Creek

More Classic Cocktails

Enjoy this recipe? If you made this cocktail, please leave a ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ star rating in the recipe card below & a review in the comments!
5 from 1 vote

Paper Plane Cocktail Recipe

Servings: 1 cocktail
Prep: 5 minutes
Total: 5 minutes
The Paper Plane is a citrusy cocktail most similar to the characteristics of a more bitter whiskey sour or sidecar. It's smooth, warm, and refreshing.

Ingredients 

  • 3/4 ounces bourbon
  • 3/4 ounces Aperol
  • 3/4 ounces amaro, pref. Amaro Nonino*
  • 3/4 ounces lemon juice
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Instructions 

  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with a cup of ice.
  • Gently shake or stir for 10 seconds and double strain into a chilled coupe glass.
  • Optionally garnish with a tiny paper plane if you have way too much time on your hands! Just cut a small rectangle and fold it like your typical paper plane.

Notes

I’ve also used Amaro Averna and Amaro Montenegro as substitutes. It works but my favorite is Nonino by far.
Always pre-chill your glasses with ice water or place them in the freezer! This keeps your drinks cooler for much longer.
This cocktail should not be overshaken in order to preserve the overall body and not introduce too much water. Double straining with a fine mesh strainer will filter out tiny ice chips.

Nutrition

Serving: 1gCalories: 118kcalCarbohydrates: 17gProtein: 0.2gFat: 0.2gSaturated Fat: 0.2gSodium: 4mgSugar: 17g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Cocktail
Cuisine: American
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About Shawn Williams

My name is Shawn, author behind Kitchen Swagger. I'm a food & drink enthusiast bringing you my own simple and delicious restaurant-inspired recipes.

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