The Paper Plane Cocktail Is Happy Hour Perfection
If you’ve been here for a while, you know that a paper plane cocktail is part of our weekly routine. Every Friday when happy hour rolls around, we’re instinctively reaching for bourbon, aperol, amaro nonino, and a couple of fresh lemons to make our favorite drink! It’s essentially a modern take on a whiskey sour.
Shaken over ice, the paper plane is a cold, refreshing cocktail recipe that has hints of orange and a slight bitterness that masks the intensity of bourbon, but also sweetness and acidity from the digestif and fresh lemon juice.
To sum it up: paper plane cocktails are incredibly well balanced and super easy to drink. One sip of this modern classic and you’ll be plotting your second drink in no time!
Ingredients For a Paper Plane Cocktail
- 1½ ounces bourbon (see below for our recommended brand!)
- 1½ ounces Aperol: Sweeter than Campari, and more balanced.
- 1½ ounces Amaro Nonino: Made from grappa and infused with herbs and citrus.
- 1½ ounces fresh lemon juice: About 1 lemon per cocktail.
You likely have bourbon on hand already, and are at least somewhat familiar with Aperol — the star component in Italy’s infamous Aperol Spritz — but Amaro Nonino may be new to you. We’re deep diving into what it is below!
Paper Plane Cocktail History
The paper plane recipe was developed by Aussie bartender Sam Ross in 2007, the year I turned 21… clearly this cocktail and I were meant to be!
The paper plane is a modern variation on another well loved cocktail: the last word, which is equal parts gin, green chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and fresh lime juice.
Anyway, Ross created the drink at the request of his friend over the The Violet Hour in Chicago (a pre-prohibition style craft cocktail bar) who wanted an original drink for their menu. Through a misunderstanding between the two, the cocktail was originally referred to as a Paper Airplane, but Ross insists that it’s meant to be a Paper Plane. So there you have it!
Sam Ross is also the creator of the Penicillin cocktail, a scotch-based whiskey sour. The world is a better place because of you, Sam!
What is Amaro Nonino?
Amaro Nonino is the Italian amaro digestif we cannot live without! Aged in barrique (small barrels), it’s grapa base offers the perfect mix of both bitter and sweet with hints of orange zest and thyme. It is the heart and soul of the paper plane cocktail!
Is there a substitute for amaro nonino?
Sadly, no. The amaro nonino is an integral part of this recipe and there’s no replacing or substituting its unique flavor!
You can also serve Amaro Nonino as an aperitif before a meal! It’s delicious on the rocks with a splash of seltzer and some fresh citrus juice (lemon, orange, or grapefruit).
Amaro Nonino vs Amaro Montenegro
Amaro montenegro is another common amaro, however it is not recommended for a paper plane! Its recipe uses over 40 botanicals, making it more floral overall. That combined with its sweeter notes of cinnamon and cloves would completely change the flavor of this paper plane recipe.
Try using amaro montenegro in these 3 cocktails instead!
What is Aperol?
Aperol is an Italian apértif, or bitter, that is made of zesty oranges, herbs, and roots. It’s best known for it’s signature bright orange color and bittersweet taste thanks to a hint of vanilla (though fun fact: Aperol is less bitter than it’s closest relative, Campari, which is both more bitter and also darker red in color).
An apértif is served before a meal, while a digestif is enjoyed after a meal.
How to Make A Paper Plane Drink
This cocktail could not be easier to make (which is probably why we enjoy a paper plane every single week!)
Combine equal parts (1 ½ ounce each) of bourbon + aperol + amaro nonino + and fresh lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
Shake vigorously for 15 – 20 seconds, then strain and pour into a cocktail glass. If you like, you can garnish with an orange peel!
This is the best cocktail recipe!
Best Glass For Serving Paper Plane Cocktails
Hands down, serve this beauty in a coupe glass! In a pinch, a martini glass works too!
My favorite coupe glasses are available from Crate & Barrel and are surprisingly affordable. This recipe makes enough to fill the coupe glass to the tippy top!
Best Bourbon To Use
We categorize bourbon into the following two categories: sipping bourbon or mixer.
The former are typically a higher-proof bourbon and are reserved for sipping either neat (a term used to designate a single liquor served without being chilled or mixed with water, ice, or other liquor) or on the rocks (single liquor poured over ice cubes). Think Basil Hayden’s, Michter’s, Woodford Reserve… top shelf bourbon.
We’d rather use something like Four Roses or Bulleit for this paper plane cocktail recipe. Don’t get me wrong, we love both, but in this house, with the wide range of bourbons we keep on hand, it makes sense to use something less… sippable. Head to your local liquor store and browse through the different brands, but go with something at least mid-range in terms of price for the best overall flavor.
Other Cocktails To Enjoy
Let’s break this down by liquor for the sake of making your life easier! Here are a few other cocktail recipes we love featuring some of the same ingredients as used in this paper plane cocktail recipe.
With a prep time of less than 5 minutes, you can enjoy this classic cocktail again and again. And we do!! The Paper Plane is the most delicious drink and we hope you grab a bottle of Amaro Nonino soon so you can enjoy one (or two…) at home.
If you make a Paper Plane Cocktail, please let us know by leaving a review and rating below!
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For more cocktails we love, check out the following!
Paper Plane Cocktail Recipe
- 1 ½ oz bourbon such as Four Roses
- 1 ½ oz aperol
- 1 ½ oz amaro nonino
- 1 ½ oz fresh lemon juice about 1 lemon
- Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, then pour in all ingredients. Secure the lid on top, then shake vigorously for 15 – 20 seconds.
- Strain and pour cocktail into a coupe glass. Enjoy!
- You can double the recipe to make 2 cocktails, but any more than that will likely not fit into a cocktail shaker.
- For variations on the paper plane drink, try substituting other forms of fresh citrus, such as orange (sweeter) or grapefruit (likely to be much more bitter overall!).