The Paper Plane cocktail is a simple delight, but unique in that it’s not widely popular. While you can never go wrong with a classic cocktail, who doesn’t love impressing their guests with something a little off the beaten path? Especially with a beverage that will have them nodding along in agreement - likely to the catchy tune of M.I.A’s Paper Planes.
History of the Paper Plane Cocktail
Finish that lyric: “I fly like paper…” I can almost guarantee you know the next four words. Apologies, because you will now have that song stuck in your head the rest of the day. Possibly week. I don’t even have to tell you the title of the song for you to instinctively start hearing its steady beat. Of course, it’s M.I.A.’s iconic hit Paper Planes.
The summer of 2007 that song filled bartender and cocktail master Sam Ross’ eardrums as he developed the Paper Plane cocktail. So he aptly named the cocktail after it. Ross created the Paper Plane while working on the opening of the speakeasy the Violet Hour in Chicago. The Violet Hour has a James Beard Award-winning cocktail program with whiskey leading the charge. It has a strict no cell phone policy and its door is hidden by a mural that is constantly being repainted. Originally Ross created the drink with Amaro Nonino Quintessentia and Campari, but switched the Campari for Aperol soon after when he brought it to New York’s Milk & Honey.
Ross believes the Paper Plane is his second most well-traveled drink. In fact, it is actually known as the official drink of Toronto, Canada. Can’t blame them, it’s lemon zestiness mixed with bourbon provides quite the punch and balance.
Ross is an Australian bartender who developed his exceptional mixing talents in Melbourne, then moved to New York City. He’s the inventor of many favorite cocktail recipes, such as the Penicillin, which is his most well-known masterpiece.
But I digress, we’re here to talk about the Paper Plane.
How to Make the Paper Plane Cocktail
The Paper Plane cocktail is made with four ingredients you likely already have in your liquor cabinet, and you'll need a cocktail shaker and a couple of coupe cocktail glasses. There is nothing overly engineered or fancy about this drink that will leave you confused while crafting it. To ensure your Paper Plane cocktail is truly on point, don’t skimp on the lemon zest for garnish. It’s beautiful and functional in bringing out that sweet tang in the cocktail.
Paper Plane Cocktail Recipe
This is the original Paper Plane cocktail developed by Sam Ross:
1 oz Montenegro Amaro
1 oz Aperol
1 oz Bourbon Whiskey
1 oz fresh lemon juice, strained
Lemon zest twist for garnish
Combine the amaro, Aperol, bourbon and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Fill the cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. You’ll want to shake until the outside of the cocktail shaker is frosty, which should take about 20 seconds. Strain the Paper Plane cocktail into two pre-chilled coupe cocktail glasses.
Variations and Substitutions
So, we always like to offer some suggestions for folks who may be wondering about substitutions. Honestly, the first time you read a new cocktail recipe online, the chances you've got all the ingredients on hand are not good. Unless you're crazy stocked on bottles. Or work at a bar.
If you choose to substitute, you'll end up with a different drink than Ross intended, but it could still be great! Try swapping out different amari for the Amaro Montenegro. If you don't have Aperol, Campari is a close cousin.
You might try switching up the lemon juice with grapefruit or orange juice, for a bit of a twist - especially depending on the season of the year. When we ordered one at one of our local spots (Fernside in South Park / San Diego), Seth added an orange peel garnish, which was absolutely delightful.
Put the Paper Plane cocktail on your next dinner party menu for a whiskey drink that no one can turn down, and with an interesting origination story to boot!