One might imagine that the Paper Plane, considering the drink’s ubiquity among bartenders and at cocktail bars, were a storied classic. However, it was only invented in 2008. The inventor: Sam Ross, an award-winning bartender and the co-owner of Attaboy and Diamond Reef in New York City.
The Paper Plane is a modern variation on the Last Word, a classic, equal-parts drink composed of gin, lime, maraschino liqueur and green Chartreuse. At first glance, the bourbon-spiked Paper Plane might not seem too similar. But it follows the same template and consists of equal parts bourbon, Amaro Nonino, Aperol and lemon juice. Both drinks strike a beautiful balance between bitter, sour and herbal notes.
Although Ross typically holds court in NYC, he created the cocktail for the opening menu of The Violet Hour in Chicago. He was inspired by M.I.A.’s smash hit “Paper Plane,” which was popular at the time, and he even garnished the drink with a little paper plane. Guests enjoyed the cocktail, so Ross brought it with him when he went back to New York. He served it at Milk & Honey, and the cocktail’s following proliferated from there.
When making the Paper Plane, Ross likes to use a slightly higher-proof bourbon—one in the 43% to 46% ABV range—as heft adds body. He also warns not to overshake the drink: You want it cold, but not watery. With that in mind, you can try making one for yourself. Made with equal parts of each ingredient, it’s an easy exercise.
Bourbon and lemon juice are mainstays in most home bars. Aperol, as the backbone of the popular Aperol Spritz, is easy to come by. Amaro Nonino is a friendly, bittersweet ingredient that adds a unique element to the cocktail. This liqueur is made from a base of grappa and includes notes of botanicals, alpine herbs and orange peel.
Mix the components together for a lesson in flavor and balance. The bourbon is present, but not overwhelming, making the Paper Plane a great gateway cocktail for drinkers who are new to whiskey. And while it’s still a relatively new drink, its impact has been significant. Don’t be surprised if it sticks around for decades to come.
Click Play to Learn How to Make a Paper Plane Cocktail
3/4 ounce bourbon
3/4 ounce Aperol
3/4 ounce Amaro Nonino Quintessentia
3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Add the bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino and lemon juice into a shaker with ice and shake until well-chilled.
Strain into a coupe glass.