Paper Plane Cocktail

published Jul 8, 2023
Paper Plane Cocktail Recipe

This modern classic is a balanced, refreshing combination of bourbon, Aperol, amaro, and lemon juice.


Prep5 minutes

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A coupe glass with a dark orange Paper Plane cocktail on a marble surface
Credit: Photo: Vicky Wasik; Food Styling: James Park

I can’t remember exactly the first time I tasted a Paper Plane cocktail, but what I can tell you is it became a favorite after just one sip. The combination of bourbon, Aperol, amaro, and lemon juice results in a rosy orange-hued cocktail that’s just about as balanced as they come. It’s citrusy, warming, and bitter, with just the right amount of sweetness. 

The Paper Plane cocktail is a drink I love making for guests because it’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser — including those who don’t usually go for whiskey-based cocktails

What Is a Paper Plane Cocktail?

A Paper Plane cocktail is an equal-parts drink that features bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, and lemon juice. It is a modern twist on another classic cocktail called the Last Word, which is an equal-parts drink composed of gin, lime juice, maraschino liqueur, and green Chartreuse. 

The Paper Plane is a fairly new addition to the roster of classic cocktails. It was created in 2008 by New York bartender Sam Ross. The name is inspired by the song “Paper Planes” by M.I.A., which was especially popular at that time. 

What Is Amaro Nonino Quintessentia?

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, as the name implies, is a type of amaro, which is an Italian bittersweet herbal liqueur that’s most traditionally enjoyed as a digestif. The world of amari is vast and no two brands taste the same. Amaro Nonino is lighter in both body and color than many and has a distinct citrus-forward flavor. There’s really no substitute for it in a Paper Plane. 

It is, however, pricey at about $50 for a bottle. To me, it’s worth the cost, as you only need a mere 3/4 ounce per drink — so one bottle will give you many, many rounds of cocktails. 

However, if you have trouble finding it or would prefer to spend a little less, Amaro Montenegro is your next best choice. It will give the cocktail a slightly darker hue and a flavor that’s less citrusy and a touch more spicy and herbal, but it’s a worthy substitute.

What Does a Paper Plane Cocktail Taste Like?

Because this is an equal-parts cocktail, no one ingredient overpowers the others. It’s bright and citrus-forward with bittersweetness from the Aperol and amaro that’s balanced by the nutty notes of bourbon. A Paper Plane is a smooth and refreshing drink that’s easy to sip. 

Paper Plane Cocktail Recipe

This modern classic is a balanced, refreshing combination of bourbon, Aperol, amaro, and lemon juice.

Prep time 5 minutes

Serves 1

Nutritional Info



  1. Juice 1 medium lemon until you have 3/4 ounce.

  2. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the lemon juice, 3/4 ounce Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, 3/4 ounce Aperol, and 3/4 ounce bourbon. Seal the shaker and shake until well chilled and the outside of the shaker is frosty, about 15 seconds.

  3. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a coupe glass.

Recipe Notes

Amaro substitute: If you can’t find Amaro Nonino Quintessentia, Amaro Montenegro can be used instead.