Despite its fun name and festive color, the Paper Plane is a sophisticated cocktail that’s ideal for serious cocktail drinkers. It’s also a tasty tipple that’s super easy to craft at home.
The Paper Plane cocktail is a modern cocktail that debuted more than a century after Wilbur and Orville Wright took their first flight in 1903. That flight changed the world.
While the cocktail version may not have made such a bang, it’s still a great invention that’s crafted with liquors produced in both the USA and Italy. In other words, it’s an ideal drink for cocktail enthusiasts who like to travel the world while they drink.
What Is a Paper Plane Cocktail?
Unlike paper planes made with actual paper, the Paper Plane cocktail requires three separate liquors (amaro, Aperol and bourbon) plus freshly squeezed lemon juice. Also, unlike those paper gliders, it’s easy to craft the cocktail version at home since no special skills or tools are required.
Drinking a Paper Plane cocktail is equally easy to do. The orange cocktail is surprisingly smooth despite its bitter, herbaceous and tart flavors. But make no mistake. This bourbon cocktail packs a punch despite its fanciful name.
The Paper Plane’s ingredients will tickle your tastebuds and blast you straight into the air. However, should you choose to imbibe more than one Paper Plane cocktail, you may be in for a rough landing or at least a bit of tummy turbulence.
History of the Paper Plane Cocktail
Research into this boozy cocktail reveals that American bartender Sam Ross invented the Paper Plane cocktail in 2007 for Chicago’s The Violet Hour.
Ross apparently derived inspiration from the Last Word, a classic cocktail crafted with green Chartreuse, dry gin, maraschino liqueur and freshly squeezed lime juice. His interpretation was creative considering that ingredient is different but, hey, all’s fair in love and cocktails.
He also got inspiration from the M.I.A. song Paper Planes. Whether this inspiration was related to the song’s infectious tune or its serious lyrics is a mystery that’s best investigated by imbibing more Paper Plane cocktails.
The Paper Plane isn’t Sam Ross’ only cocktail claim to fame. The prolific bartender also created the Penicillin cocktail with Scotch whisky, lemon juice, honey syrup and fresh ginger.
Paper Plane Ingredients
While you only need a piece paper to create a paper plane, you’ll need the following ingredients to craft a Paper Plane cocktail:
Once you assemble these ingredients, the drink is easy to craft using a 1:1:1:1 ratio. We opted to use one ounce of each liquid in our recipe but you could decrease or increase the measurement based on the size of your glass.
Sam Ross’ recipe calls for 3/4 ounce measurements as opposed to our one ounce measurements.
We like to use Four Roses in this cocktail since the Kentucky bourbon has a relatively mild flavor with hints of both vanilla and caramel. The relatively affordable bourbon mixes well in this and other cocktails. You can and should use your favorite bourbon when crafting a Paper Plane cocktail.
Sam Ross crafts his Paper Plane cocktails with Amaro Nonino and we do the same. Made with grappa, this Italian amaro is neither cheap nor easy to find. However, don’t give up if you can’t find a bottle. Just use another amaro instead. But be aware that your cocktail may taste different from the classic version.
Using Aperol is an absolute must. The Italian liquor provides the Paper Plane’s vivid color and contributes to the drink’s bitter and herbaceous flavors. Like most people, we already had a bottle left over from crafting Aperol Spritzes at home. If you don’t have a bottle, it should be easy to find one at any liquor store.
How To Craft a Paper Plane Cocktail
Crafting a Paper Plane cocktail doesn’t require any special bar tools. We use the following basic bar tools in our recipe:
You can improvise if you’re missing any or all of these basic bar tools. However, none of them are expensive.
Discover 10 necessary bar tools for lazy mixologists.
The first step is to squeeze an ounce of lemon juice which you’ll pour directly into a cocktail shaker.
We like to use a small angled measuring cup to measure juice but you can use a jigger or other measuring device if you don’t have this handy tool.
Click here to purchase an angled measuring cup if want to add this cheap tool to your mixology repertoire.
Next, measure an ounce each of the cocktail’s three liquors and pour them into the same cocktail shaker.
We use a Japanese Jigger in this and other cocktail recipes to ensure accurate measurements and clean pours.
Click here to purchase a Japanese Jigger if you don’t have a jigger or want an inexpensive upgrade.
Once you’ve added the liquors, add ice and close the shaker. We use a Boston Shaker for this and other recipes since it doesn’t leak and is easy to clean.
Click here to buy a Boston Shaker if you don’t have a cocktail shaker or want an inexpensive upgrade.
Shake vigorously until the liquids are thoroughly mixed and chilled.
This step should take about 20 seconds.
Strain the cocktail in to a coupe glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
Don’t try to glide this Paper Plane across the room. Instead, sip it with caution.
Paper Plane Cocktail Alternatives
We won’t be surprised if crafting a Paper Plane cocktail gets your creative juices flowing. Here are a few ideas to channel those juices:
Paper Plane Cocktail Recipe
- 1 ounce bourbon
- 1 ounce Amaro Nonino
- 1 ounce Aperol
- 1 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1 lemon twist
- ice cubes
- Pour all ingredients into a shaker.
- Add ice cubes and shake until liquids are mixed and chilled (typically 10-20 seconds).
- Strain into a coupe glass.
- Garnish with a lemon twist.
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Premium Cocktail Shaker Set: Two-Piece Pro Boston Shaker Set. Unweighted 18oz & Weighted 28oz Martini Drink Shaker made from Stainless Steel 304
Riedel Veritas Coupe Glasses, Set of 2, Clear
Japanese Jigger - Premium Double Cocktail Jigger, 1oz/2oz made from Stainless Steel 304
OXO SteeL Cocktail Strainer
OXO Good Grips Mini Angled Measuring Cup
Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler 3-Pack Red/Green/Yellow
Thirsty for More Cocktails?
Try our Absinthe Frappe, Amaretto Sour, Americano, Aperol Spritz, Aviation, Bee’s Knees, Bijou, Black Russian, Boulevardier, Brandy Alexander, Caipirinha, Clover Club, Creamsicle, Daiquiri, Diplomat, Dirty Shirley, Eggnog, Emerald, Espresso Martini, French 75, G+T, Gibson, Gimlet, Grasshopper, Hemingway Daiquiri, Hugo Spritz, Hurricane, Irish Coffee, Kentucky Mule, Kir Royale, Last Word, Manhattan, Maple Bourbon Smash, Martinez, Mauresque, Milk Punch, Mint Julep, Mojito, Moscow Mule, Mudslide, Negroni, Old Fashioned, New York Sour, Pimm’s Cup, Pink Lady, Porto Tonico, Ramos Gin Fizz, Revolver, Sazerac, Sidecar, Spicy Margarita, Tipperary, Tomate, Vieux Carré, Whiskey Ginger, Whiskey Sour, White Lady and White Russian cocktail recipes.
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.