Paper Plane Cocktail Recipe

 The Paper Plane is a relatively new addition to the cocktail world. It is an artfully delicious mix of bourbon, Amoro Nonino, Aperol and lemon served in a chilled coupe glass. When it comes to cocktails I am firmly a fan of the classics. Give me a martini, daiquiri, or Old Fashioned any day of the week and I’ll be happy.

The Paper Plane, though, is unique as it is a newer creation which has crossed the chasm into mainstream popularity - revered by professional bartenders and casual drinkers alike the world over. So for that, it demands our respect.

Paper plane cocktail close up of the drink in a glass, with a lemon peel garnish

Paper Plane Cocktail Ingredients

3/4 oz Bourbon Whiskey

I love to work with bourbon as a cocktail ingredient as it brings such a richness to whatever you put it in. The base spirit for this recipe, it adds warmth and depth to the drink. Something like a Buffalo Trace or Woodford Reserve both work nicely in this cocktail.

3/4 oz Amaro Nonino

This Italian herbal liqueur brings an interesting bitterness and complexity. If you don’t have Amaro Nonino you can try substituting it. Other types of amaro can work, or alternatively a few dashes of bitters.

Still, I’d recommend getting your hands on some Amaro Nonino if you can for the most authentic Paper Plane.

3/4 oz Aperol

For a touch of citrusy sweetness and its iconic orange hue.

3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice

The sour acidity of the lemon helps to balance the sweetness of the other ingredients.

How to Make a Paper Plane Cocktail

1. Measure and Mix

Start by measuring equal parts - 3/4 ounce each - of bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol, and fresh lemon juice.

Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.

2. Shake it Up

Shake vigorously for about 15-20 seconds. This not only chills the cocktail but also ensures all the flavors meld together harmoniously.

3. Strain and Serve

Strain the mixture into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass using a Hawthorne strainer. You can also use a fine strainer as an extra touch, but it isn’t strictly necessary.

4. Optional garnish

You can serve the Paper Plane as is, without a garnish. Alternatively you can garnish it with a lemon twist.

Bartender making a paper plane cocktail, straining the drink from a Boston shaker into a martini glass

A Brief History of the Paper Plane

As it was only invented in the early 2000s, this really is a cocktail with “a brief history”. Created by the renowned bartender Sam Ross, the mind behind other famous cocktails like the Penicillin, the name of this drink is said to be inspired by the song "Paper Planes" by M.I.A.

What is Amaro Nonino?

Amaro Nonino, one of the key ingredients of the Paper Plane cocktail, is an Italian liqueur whose roots trace back to the early 20th Century. Developed by the Nonino family, it is based on aged grappa - a grape based brandy. This sets it apart from other types of amaro which are often based on neutral spirits or wine.

Amaro Nonino is infused with a blend of herbs, roots and botanicals before being aged in oak barrels for five years. This gives it a very unique taste which is hard to replicate with other liqueurs. The exact recipe itself is still a closely guarded family secret. For that reason, if you want a truly authentic Paper Plane cocktail there really is no substitute for Amaro Nonino.

Four bottles of Amaro Nonino, inside gift boxes, on a shop shelf

Mixology Tip: Food Pairings

The mark of an excellent mixologist is their ability to consider the overall tasting and drinking experience of their guests. One way you can really up your game in this respect is by pairing your cocktails with food that complements their flavor.

The Paper Plane goes really well with:

  • Cheese and Charcuterie: The herbal and citrus notes of the Paper Plane pair beautifully with a variety of cheeses and cured meats. Think Italian charcuterie, so cold cuts of cheese and meats like parmesan, gorgonzola, prosciutto and salami.
  • Light Appetizers: Consider pairing with light appetizers like bruschetta or shrimp cocktail, which complement the drink’s refreshing profile.

Bar Tools Needed to Make a Paper Plane Cocktail

As there are lots of ingredients in a Paper Plane you’ll need a high quality cocktail shaker to ensure you mix them all up properly. If you’re a novice bartender a cobbler style shaker would be best, whereas if you’re more experienced you can use either a Boston or cobbler shaker.

You’ll also need a jigger for precise measurement of the bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol and lemon juice. A strainer is necessary so that you get a nice, smooth Paper Plane cocktail without any shards of ice or pieces of lemon pulp.

Final Verdict

The Paper Plane isn’t as established as many of the classic cocktails. In the short time it’s been around, though, its rise in popularity has been spectacular.

It’s a cocktail that teaches us there’s still room for creativity and experimentation in mixology, and that it’s still possible to create new drinks so delicious that they take on a life of their own. So grab your cocktail shaker, gather up the ingredients and try your hand at making a Paper Plane cocktail. It’s definitely worth the effort.

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