The Paper Plane cocktail might seem like one of the old classics, but this notoriously delicious mixed drink is actually quite young. Consisting of bourbon, Aperol, Amaro liqueur, and lemon juice, the combination of those four ingredients creates a complex and intricate flavor profile that is simultaneously smooth, sweet, and bold. This contemporary recipe uses some obscure ingredients, making this drink truly distinctive and turning it a beautiful, rust-orange color.
The Paper Plane Offers Bold and Complex Flavors
This ultra-trendy cocktail has a neat origin story, even though it’s less than fifteen years old. Ever heard of a little bar from NYC called Milk and Honey? It’s only one of the most famous bars in the U.S.! Their bartender, Sam Ross, who is also responsible for bringing bargoers everywhere the Penicillin, gets the credit for inventing this delicious drink. Actually, he created it for his longtime friend, who was opening a bar in Chicago called The Violet Hour.
Think back to summer 2008: remember that super popular song from M.I.A. called Paper Planes? Well, that song was Ross’s inspiration for creating this cocktail. It was such a hit when it debuted at The Violet Hour that Ross brought it back to Milk and Honey. Ever since, the cocktail has become exceedingly popular and can be found in bars throughout America to this day.
Simple, Delicious, and Unique
For those making this drink, original creator Sam Ross recommends using a higher-proof bourbon. Look for one that’s about 43% to 46% ABV range, as this will add some robust flavor and body to the drink. Another pro tip? Don’t over-shake when creating this delicate cocktail. It should be smooth and cold, not diluted or watery. This cocktail is also super simple to make, as there are equal parts of each ingredient. Just pour, shake, and serve—it doesn’t get much easier than that.
Garnish with a Paper Airplane
When Ross first created this iconic cocktail, the recipe called for Campari instead of Aperol. However, he said that the Campari made the drink lack sweetness and was just a tad too bitter. Suddenly, the lightbulb went off: what if he used Aperol instead of Campari? The result was astoundingly delicious, and it also gives the cocktail its striking rust-orange color.
Traditionally, this drink doesn’t have a lemon wheel/wedge garnish, even though the recipe calls for fresh-squeezed lemon juice. For a nifty garnish, all you need is a pad of sticky notes. Take one, cut off the adhesive strip, and fold it into a small paper airplane. Grab a cocktail toothpick, stick it through the tiny airplane, garnish, and enjoy!
The Paper Plane Cocktail
- ¾ Oz Bourbon
- ¾ Oz Aperol
- ¾ Oz Amaro Liqueur
- ¾ Oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
- Combine the bourbon, Aperol, Amaro liqueur, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice into a cocktail shaker with ice
- Shake until well-chilled but not watery or diluted
- Strain into a coupe glass, no ice
- Garnish with a tiny paper airplane
- Serve, sip, and enjoy
When it comes to cocktails, this one really takes it into the stratosphere of deliciousness and beyond. Though it might seem like a classic, this relatively young cocktail has only four ingredients: bourbon, Aperol, Amaro liqueur, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice, but they make a unique and distinctively refreshing taste and a stunning, rust-orange color. The mix of obscure ingredients gives this drink a complex flavor profile and smooth, sweet notes that make the Paper Plane take off.