Paper Plane Cocktail

The Paper Plane cocktail is a modern classic worth trying. Crafted with equal parts bourbon, Aperol, amaro and fresh lemon juice, this elegant drink — garnished with an actual paper plane — offers a harmonious balance of sweet, bitter and citrus flavors that soar to new heights with every sip.

Two glasses with the Paper Plane Cocktail recipe in them.

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Paper Plane cocktail recipe

If you’re looking for a tasty cocktail adventure, hop on board with the Paper Plane Cocktail.

This modern classic, invented by the creative minds of the bar industry’s finest, brings together a sophisticated blend of bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino and lemon juice.

It’s got layers of complex flavor and exudes elegance. And learning how to make a Paper Plane cocktail? Once you know this classic, you are going to fly at home bartending.

More classic cocktail recipes: BoulevardierPresbyterianSidecar

A cocktail with Paper Plane Cocktail decorations on top of a glass.

Why you’ll love this recipe

If you don’t love it already, you are going to adore this Paper Plane cocktail recipe.

  • The Paper Plane cocktail is perfectly balanced with sweet, bitter and citrus notes.
  • Based on the iconic Last Word cocktail, the Paper Plane is a favorite in the cocktail enthusiasts and industry professionals alike.
  • Whether enjoyed as a refreshing apéritif or a sophisticated nightcap, the Paper Plane cocktail’s versatile nature makes it suitable for any occasion.

(Side note: This recipe also makes me want to sing M.I.A.’s song “Paper Plane,” which was my college anthem.)

Paper Plane cocktail garnishes.

What is a Paper Plane cocktail?

The paper plane cocktail is an IBA official cocktail created around 2007 by Sasha Petraske and Sam Ross, bartenders at Milk & Honey in New York City, for their friend Toby Maloney’s bar, The Violet Hour in Chicago.

Made with Amaro Nonino, Aperol, bourbon whiskey and lemon juice, the recipe is a variation of the Last Word cocktail, which is itself a twist on the classic Corpse Reviver #2.

Bartender Sam Ross is also the mind behind some more of our favorite cocktails, including the Penicillin and the Irish Maid.

What does a Paper Plane taste like?

The Paper Plane cocktail delivers a nuanced experience with a harmonious blend of intriguing flavors in every sip.

The sweetness of Aperol and the herbal complexity of Amaro Nonino complement the richness of bourbon. The addition of fresh lemon juice adds a bright, citrusy zing, completing the cocktail with a refreshing and well-rounded finish.

Two cocktail glasses with Paper Plane Cocktail paper airplanes in them.

Tools & glassware

To make the paper plane cocktail, you’ll need a basic bar set with a jigger and a cocktail shaker.

The drink is usually served neat in a stemmed glass with a rounded bowl, like a coupe glass or a Nick & Nora glass. Coupe glasses have a broader shape to the bowl, while Nick & Noras are a bit taller and narrower.

Ingredients

You can find all the ingredients for the paper plane cocktail at your local supermarket and liquor store. Here’s what you’ll need to make this recipe:

  • Amaro Nonino: The classic recipe calls for Amaro Nonino. You can substitute other brands of amaro, but it may change the flavor and color of the drink.
  • Aperol: Other bitter Italian liqueurs can be used too, but the classic recipe uses Aperol which is a bit lighter and sweeter than others like Campari.
  • Bourbon whiskey: The original used Elijah Craig Small Batch. You may use any brand of bourbon, though. I like Old Forester and Maker’s Mark for their clean flavor and good price.
  • Lemon juice: Fresh lemon juice is always best for cocktails.
Two martini glasses with a blue paper airplane on top, ready for the Paper Plane Cocktail recipe.

Garnishes

While most cocktails have fruity garnishes, others get inanimate objects, like the postage stamp added to the rim of the Airmail cocktail.

Garnish this beloved libation with an actual paper plane for an extra dose of aviation-inspired charm. You can use a tiny clothespin to attach it to the edge of the glass.

I used this paper airplane tutorial to fold mine. I’ve loved origami since I was a kid, so I already had a stack of colorful origami paper to make these. However, while researching this recipe, I learned that you can purchase already-folded paper airplanes on Etsy!

Don’t have a paper airplane or the desire to make one? You can use a piece of orange peel or a lemon twist instead.

How to make a Paper Plane cocktail

You can make the classic Paper Plane cocktail recipe in a few simple steps:

A person pouring a Paper Plane Cocktail into a glass.
A mixologist pouring liquid into a glass.
A person pouring a cocktail into a glass with origami Paper Plane.
A person pouring a mixology-inspired paper plane cocktail into a glass with paper airplanes.

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine amaro, Aperol, bourbon and lemon juice.

A person holding a gold cocktail shaker, perfecting the art of mixology.
A person pouring a cocktail into a glass.

Shake well and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a folded paper plane.

Tips & tricks

Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:

  • Measure all the ingredients equally. This cocktail works best in equal parts.
  • For the most authentic Paper Plane cocktail, use Amaro Nonino, Aperol and Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon.
  • Use room-temperature lemons to get the most juice out of the fruit.
A Paper Plane cocktail recipe with blue paper airplanes in the glass.

What to serve with a Paper Plane drink

Paper Planes make a great happy hour drink or a delicious nightcap.

The sweet-sour-bitter flavor goes well with salty and meaty dishes flavors, like crunchy bruschetta to salty bacon-wrapped dates.

These drinks also go well with citrus flavors. For a nightcap, enjoy them after you’ve finished a hearty meal with a citrus dessert like lemon bars.

Two martini glasses with Paper Plane Cocktails in them.

FAQ

Can you replace the Amaro Nonino in the Paper Plane cocktail?

Yes, you may use other types of amaro in the paper plane cocktail. However, Amaro Nonino has a distinct flavor, so using other amaros will bring a different flavor profile and color to the drink. Amaro Averna and Amaro Montenegro are good substitutes.

Can you substitute the Aperol in a Paper Plane cocktail?

Aperol can be substituted in the paper plane cocktail with Campari or other bitter Italian liqueurs. However, Campari is more bitter while Aperol is more sweet, so making this swap will change the flavor of the drink. Cynar can also work in place of the Aperol.

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A Paper Plane cocktail recipe with blue paper airplanes in the glass.

Paper Plane Cocktail

Yield: 1 drink
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
The sophisticated Paper Plane cocktail is full of complex flavor and adventurous spirit.
5 from 1 vote
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ingredients

  • ¾ ounce Amaro Nonino
  • ¾ ounce Aperol
  • ¾ ounce bourbon whiskey
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice

instructions

  • In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine Amaro Nonino, Aperol, bourbon and lemon juice.
  • Shake well and strain into a coupe glass.
  • Garnish with a folded paper plane.

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nutrition information

Yield: 1 drink

amount per serving:

Serving: 3ounces Calories: 128kcal Carbohydrates: 8g Protein: 0.1g Fat: 0.1g Saturated Fat: 0.01g Sodium: 0.4mg Potassium: 22mg Fiber: 0.1g Sugar: 1g Vitamin A: 1IU Vitamin C: 8mg Calcium: 1mg Iron: 0.03mg
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