A delightfully complex, boozy modern cocktail with bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
The Paper Plane cocktail is one of my favorite cocktails to order when I’m out. It’s boozy, a little bitter, a touch sour, but so beautifully balanced overall. If you’re looking for an interesting, complex, deliciously boozy drink, you’ve got to try this one.
There are four total ingredients in a Paper Plane cocktail: bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and fresh lemon juice. No special syrups, no extra bitters, just booze and fresh lemon juice. Find quantities and instructions in the blog post below, or jump to the recipe card!
Paper Plane Cocktail History:
Sam Ross, NYC bartender and modern cocktail extraordinaire, developed the Paper Plane cocktail in 2008. He created it for the opening of The Violet Hour, which is an incredible bar in Chicago. Sam named the drink after the M.I.A. song, “Paper Planes”, that was super popular during the summer the drink was created. It is based on a classic, prohibition-era cocktail, The Last Word, which is an equal-parts-ingredients based drink.
This cocktail is boozy, so be cautious! My version is especially dangerous because it has an extra ounce of cocktail compared to the original recipe. If you want to do a test round of it before committing, feel free to pour 1/2 ounce of each ingredient together rather than the full ounce!
Ingredients for a Paper Plane Cocktail
- 1 oz. Bourbon
- 1 oz. Aperol
- 1 oz. Amaro Nonino*
- 1 oz. freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
Like I mentioned above, my version of this cocktail makes four ounces. The original recipe calls for the ingredients to be poured in 3/4 ounce portions, which would make a three ounce cocktail. You can use either measurement, as long as all of the ingredients are equal parts.
*Amaro Nonino is a specific type of Italian liqueur that is based on aged grappa. There are several Amaros available, and they are typically named after the family that created them. Amaro Nonino dates back to the Nonino family from the 1930s, and is a uniquely bittersweet Amaro with caramel, citrus, and herbal notes. Amaro can be very different from one another, so I do not recommend substituting Amaro Nonino with any other Amaro for this recipe.
If you aren’t familiar with Amaro, this is a great opportunity to try it out! Amaro reminds me a bit of really good sweet vermouth: it’s very complex, a touch better, a little fruity, and so delicious. There are SO MANY different versions, so it’s really cool to try a few different ones separately from this drink.
Substitutes for Amaro Nonino:
However, if you cannot find Amaro Nonino, some of these liqueurs may be suitable substitutions:
- Amaro Averna
- Amaro Montenegro
- Boutique Italian Sweet Vermouth (such as Fred Jerbis)
- Cynar (which is also Italian Amaro)
- Angostura Bitters*
*If you absolutely cannot find any of the other options, 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters will work. The cocktail will only be three ounces, and the flavors won’t be quite as complex, but it’s worth trying!
Of course, you’re welcome to take this cocktail recipe and play around with it to form your own variation, too! We all have such unique tastes, so it’s cool to see what other flavor companions you can come up with to make your perfect cocktail at home. I have a couple of variation ideas for you listed below.
Paper Plane Cocktail Variations:
- Swap rum for bourbon. (Then called a Paper Kamikaze).
- Swap Campari for Aperol (if you like it extra bitter).
- Swap Amaro Nonino for Grand Mariner (or Gran Gala), and add a dash or two of bitters.
I hope you love the Paper Plane as much as I do! It’s honestly perfect for before OR after dinner cocktails. Feel free to reach out to me via email with any questions, and follow me on Instagram for more cocktail and small batch recipes!
Paper Plane Cocktail
- 1 ounce Bourbon
- 1 ounce Aperol
- 1 ounce Amaro Nonino
- 1 ounce freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker full of ice. Shake vigorously for at least 15 seconds. Strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.