The Paper Plane Is A 4-Ingredient Boozy Drink For Whiskey Lovers

If you're looking for something exciting to brighten up your summer social life this year, the Paper Plane could be the new cocktail trend worth jumping on. One of the best modern classic cocktails in rotation, the Paper Plane has yet to enjoy its time in the spotlight in the way as, say, the Espresso Martini or the Negroni have – both of which are nearly ubiquitous in bar culture these days.

The Paper Plane uses four ingredients measured out in equal parts of just ¾ of an ounce. The main spirit is bourbon, which is mixed with Aperol, Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, and lemon juice. The result is a masterful blend of bitter botanicals and sweet citrus. The cocktail somehow manages to appeal to someone who would typically go for the spirit-forward bravado of an Old Fashioned just as easily as someone who prefers the sunshiney sweetness of an Aperol Spritz. If balance was embodied in a beverage, the Paper Plane would be its name.

The drink was created in 2008 by none other than Sam Ross, who was part of the team at Sasha Petraske's revolutionary New York City cocktail bar Milk & Honey when it first opened. It was initially a riff on The Last Word, which is a delicious cocktail that may soon become a relic of the past now that one of its main ingredients, Chartreuse, has capped its production. In case you're wondering, yes, the name is inspired by M.I.A.'s classic hit song of the same name and is sometimes even garnished with a paper plane.

The Paper Plane is a botanically rich drink that's still approachable

Without having already tried the drink, it's hard to understand what it might taste like, so let's dive deeper into the ingredients. Most people know what bourbon and lemon juice taste like, but Aperol and Amaro Nonino are probably less familiar. Both are members of the amaro family, which is a huge genre of Italian bitter liqueurs. If two of the most common amari, Aperol and Campari, aren't familiar to you, you may have come across Fernet-Branca, which is very popular among American bartenders

Thanks to the Aperol Spritz, the existence of Aperol is more generally known. In comparison with other amari, Aperol is more citrus-forward and considerably sweeter, with strong hints of orange mixed with some botanicals. Amaro Nonino, meanwhile, is a relatively new amaro (it was created in 1992), and the Paper Plane itself is credited for being the primary reason that Americans know about it at all. 

It's a grape distillate, so it has a slight sweetness to it but the flavor profile overall is well within the bounds of a traditional amaro – bitter botanicals, warm spices, and a touch of citrus. All of this comes together to create a drink that is surprisingly complex and bold while simultaneously being approachable. As anyone who has ever attempted to invent a cocktail before can tell you, it's not an easy target to hit. But luckily, you don't need to be a bar whiz to enjoy the results.