The Paper Plane Cocktail is one of the easiest cocktails to make at home: no fussy syrups, no hard-to-find bitters, no fancy garnishes. Find out where it comes from and how to make it!
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It’s no secret I like my cocktails to be zesty. In fact, I really do not enjoy sweet cocktails, and citrus fruits are the best way to cut through sweetness in cocktails. From the pretty-in-pink Paloma cocktail to the medicinal Penicillin cocktail, all my favorite drinks have one thing in common: they center around citrus flavors.
I discovered the Paper Plane cocktail at a local coffeeshop that turns into a cocktail bar at night. Reading the ingredients—bourbon, lemon juice, Aperol, and Amaro Nonino Quintessentia—I knew I had to give it a taste. I fell in love with it at first sip: the Paper Plane is a tight, aromatic, sour drink that is just as refreshing as it is comforting.
Later, I researched the cocktail and discovered it had actually been invented by the creator of my other favorite cocktail—the Penicillin—Australian bartender Sam Ross. Ross sought to create a balanced drink by combining citrus elements, a classic spirit, and intriguing herbal flavors.
The best thing about the Paper Plane cocktail is that it’s so easy to make: no fussy syrups, no hard-to-find bitters, no fancy garnishes. Simply shake equal parts bourbon, Aperol, lemon juice, and Amaro Nonino on ice, pour, and enjoy.
The Paper Plane was created by Australian bartender Sam Ross around 2008. At the request of friend Toby Malhoney, Ross created the drink for the opening cocktail menu of Chicago bar The Violet Hour.
The origin of the Paper Plane moniker is quite quirky: according to this article, Ross created the cocktail, then named it after M.I.A.’s 2007 hit song “Paper Planes.” He then called his friend Malhoney to relay the recipe via a “slightly buzzed 3 a.m. voicemail.” When Maloney played the message, he misheard the name as “The Paper Airplane,” which explains why the cocktail still sometimes goes under that name, too.
The Paper Plane cocktail combines full-bodied bourbon, zesty lemon juice, tangy Aperol, and aromatic Amaro Nonino, an Italian herbal liqueur. All four ingredients are extremely flavorful on their own, yet harmoniously combine in this refreshing cocktail. The Paper Plane is slightly bitter, slightly sour, slightly herbal, and very fruity. If you like Whiskey Sours, then you’ll love the Paper Plane cocktail.
You can use any bourbon to make the Paper Plane cocktail. I’m sure bourbon aficionados would disagree, but I also think you can substitute American whiskey for the bourbon, if that’s what you have on hand.
Amaro Nonino Quintessentia is an Italian amaro, or bitter liqueur. It is made with grappa infused with herbs, fruits, and other botanicals. It has a very unique flavor that is at once bitter and sweet, with notes of vanilla, spices, honey, and orange. It has a 35% alcohol content, but it has a surprisingly smooth flavor for this strength and can still be enjoyed over ice with a slice of orange.
Although Amaro Nonino has existed since 1992 and has been enjoyed by amaro fans worldwide since then, the incredible popularity of the Paper Plane cocktail is what made it an essential component of a well-stocked bar. In fact, Elisabeta Nonino, a member of the storied Italian family that has been in the distillation business since 1897, credits the Paper Plane cocktail for putting Amaro Nonino on the map. “Thanks to Sam Ross, now Amaro Nonino is a must-have in any cocktail bar,” says Elisabetta Nonino. (source)
Amaro Nonino has such a unique flavor that it’s difficult to substitute other liqueur without changing the nature of the Paper Plane cocktail. It is, for example, extremely different from Campari and Aperol, which are herbal liqueurs too.
Amaro Nonino can be hard to find, and it tends to be pricey too. If you can’t find Amaro Nonino, the best substitutes are Amaro Averna and Amaro Tosolini. If you can’t get your hands on any of these, oddly enough, German liqueur Jägermeister can work too. It is made with herbs and spices and has a similar flavor profile.
Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.
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