The Paper Plane Cocktail is a bittersweet modern cocktail made with just 4 ingredients. Well-balanced and tangy, it’s perfect for those new to whiskey or if you’re looking for a boozy drink that goes down easy.
A Paper Plane Cocktail is one of my favorite bourbon cocktails! It’s an easy-to-sip, bittersweet drink that mixes bourbon with Aperol, Amaro, and lemon juice. The end result strikes a beautiful balance, with boozy, sweet, bitter, and tangy flavors in every sip.
Paper plane cocktail history
The Paper Plane is a relatively new cocktail, but nothing short of a modern classic. It was invented in 2008 by the bartender, Sam Ross, who coined the name after M.I.A.’s hit song, “Paper Planes”, was dominating the charts that year.
He first made this new cocktail using inspiration from the Last Word cocktail, made from equal parts gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur, and Chartreuse. He replaced the ingredients with bourbon, Campari, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice. The flavor was still too bitter, but was soon fixed after substituting Aperol for Camari. Thus, the Paper Plane was born!
This drink is easy to make with equal amounts of:
- Bourbon – Paper Plane drinks are typically made with higher-proof bourbon, but you can use any brand you like.
- Aperol – It’s not just for an Aperol Spritz! Aperol is a slightly bitter, herbal, and orange-tasting Italian aperitif. Here, it sweetens up the cocktail to help tone down the bitter notes. You can use Campari as a substitute but it’s much more bitter in flavor (check out this Aperol vs. Campari guide to learn more).
- Amaro Nonino – This is an Italian bitter liqueur (or amaro) with complex notes of orange and cinnamon. There is no real substitute that can mimic the light flavors of Amaro Nonino, but if you can’t find it, Amaro Montenegro is the next best option.
- Lemon juice – For those important tangy and citrus notes. Freshly squeezed lemon juice is crucial for balance!
Don’t forget the garnish! You can take the presentation over the top by topping the glass with a mini paper plane (this video will teach you how to make one). But if the paper just isn’t cooperating, garnish the glass with a lemon peel or twist instead.
How to make a Paper Plane cocktail
Add all of the cocktail ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until the outside of the shaker feels very cold.
Strain it into a chilled coupe glass and finish with your garnish on top. Enjoy!
Tips and tricks
- You don’t want to shake this cocktail for too long or else it might end up overly diluted. 10 seconds is more than enough time.
- Always chill your glassware! Keep a coupe glass or two in the freezer at all times or pop a few ice cubes in the glass while you’re putting the cocktail together.
- No cocktail shaker at home (this is my favorite)? No problem. You can shake the ingredients and ice together in a sealed mason jar or any sealed container.
I don’t recommend it. As noted in my Bourbon vs. Whiskey guide, bourbon is warm and sweet, almost like caramel, compared to the woody taste of whiskey. Bourbon is not only the traditional choice in a Paper Plane, but pairs best with the other three bittersweet and tangy ingredients.
Amaro Montenegro is the best substitute, as it’s the closest in flavor to Amaro Nonino. But if you can’t find either, you can use sweet vermouth.
Anytime you’re craving something boozy, a little bitter, and sweet! It’s the perfect cocktail for girls night, before heading out for a night on the town, or for celebrations.
Did you make this bourbon cocktail?
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- Winter Aperol Spritz
- Aperol Negroni
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- MORE → 25+ BEST Aperol Cocktails
Paper Plane Cocktail Recipe
- 3/4 ounce bourbon
- 3/4 ounce Aperol
- 3/4 ounce Amaro Nonino
- 3/4 ounce lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
- To Garnish:
- Lemon peel (optional)
- Mini paper plane (optional)
- Add the ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake well, until chilled.
- Strain into a coupe glass.
- Garnish as desired.