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The Paper Plane cocktail is a modern classic that’s a must try! It’s bittersweet and tangy, hitting a magical balance between bourbon and amaro.

Paper plane cocktail
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If you’re an avid homemade cocktail drinker, then here’s a must-make drink: the Paper Plane! This one is a brilliant study in balance and contrast. It’s bitter, sweet and tangy all at once, hitting a magical synergy between the bourbon and amaro. It’s truly remarkable, and you might think it was a classic cocktail. But look a little closer: did 1920’s bartenders mix Kentucky bourbon with Italian bitters? No, this one’s a true modern classic…and one of the best cocktails we’ve had (out of hundreds).

What’s a Paper Plane cocktail?

The Paper Plane cocktail is a drink featuring bourbon, Aperol and amaro created in 2007 by bartender Sam Ross. He later started making it at the famous Milk & Honey bar in New York City (where the Gold Rush also was invented). The cocktail is a spin on the classic Last Word cocktail and features an easy equal-parts formula. The cocktail is named after the M.I.A song Paper Planes, which Sam Ross says he listened to while creating the drink.

The ingredients in a Paper Plane cocktail are equal parts:

  • Bourbon whiskey
  • Aperol
  • Italian amaro
  • Lemon juice

Let’s break down the two Italian ingredients: Aperol and amaro.


All about Aperol

Aperol is an Italian bitter with a bright orange color and lightly sweet, citrusy flavor. It’s an aperitif, a liqueur to stimulate your appetite before a meal. Another aperitif you might know is Campari (the main ingredient in a Negroni): it was the first ever aperitif invented in Italy in the 1860’s. Aperol came along in 1919, and it was later bought by the Campari company in the 1990’s.

Aperol is most commonly used in the popular Aperol spritz cocktail, and it features in this tangy Aperol cocktail and the fantastic Naked and Famous (inspired by the Paper Plane!). The flavor is lightly sweet, bitter, and balanced, with notes of herbs and citrus. Its light flavor is much more approachable than bitter Campari, which can be polarizing.

What’s an Italian amaro?

Amaro is a little confusing because it’s a family of liqueurs that encompass Aperol and Campari, but then there’s lots of others too. Here’s the scoop on amaro:

  • Amaro is a family of Italian herbal liqueurs that taste bitter: amaro means bitter in Italian. It encompasses a wide range of spirits, from the ultra-bitter Campari to sweet Aperol. But there are many different varieties in between.
  • Amaro Nonino Quintessentia is the type of amaro originally used for the the Paper Plane cocktail. This amaro has hints of caramel, vanilla, allspice, and bitter orange.
  • Meletti amaro is what we used for this drink, and it tasted great! You can also use Amaro Nonino if you can find it, or even Averna or Cynar.
  • Feel free to use any amaro you can find. Liquor stores carry different brands. Play around until you find one you like best. Then use the rest on an Amaro Spritz or any of these must-try amaro cocktails.
Paper plane cocktail

How to make a Paper Plane: shake and strain!

The Paper Plane is a standard shaken cocktail: there’s really nothing more to the drink than shaking and straining! Here’s what to do, with a few substitute suggestions for equipment:

  • Shake: Add the ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and then shake until very cold. Don’t have a cocktail shaker? Use a mason jar with a cover instead.
  • Strain: Strain the drink into a cocktail glass. Don’t have a cocktail strainer? Use a fine mesh strainer instead.
  • Garnish: If you’d like, a lemon peel makes the glass more festive.
Paper plane cocktail

When to serve a Paper Plane cocktail

The Paper Plane cocktail is a fancy cocktail that’s modern and fresh. Use it to impress cocktail lovers! It requires a few special ingredients, but they’re absolutely worth the purchase. Serve it as a:

  • Happy hour drink
  • Dinner party drink
  • Guys or girls night drink
  • Cocktail hour drink
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Paper plane cocktail

Paper Plane Cocktail

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4.3 from 3 reviews

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 drink 1x


The Paper Plane cocktail is a modern classic that’s a must try! It’s bittersweet and tangy, hitting a magical balance between bourbon and amaro.


  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) bourbon whiskey
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Aperol
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Italian amaro (like Nonino Quintessentia or other brand)
  • 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice
  • For the garnish: Lemon peel


  1. Add the bourbon, Aperol, amaro, and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and shake it until cold.
  2. Strain into a cocktail glass. If desired, garnish with a lemon peel.
  • Category: Drink
  • Method: Shaken
  • Cuisine: Cocktails
  • Diet: Vegan

More bourbon drinks

Here are a few more of the top bourbon cocktails to have in your arsenal:

  • Kentucky Mule A bubbly and refreshing way to enjoy your bourbon…in a copper mug.
  • Brown Derby This retro drink features grapefruit and honey syrup: sweet and refreshing!
  • Manhattan Cocktail This sophisticated whiskey drink has a long history.
  • Milk Punch This tasty brandy and bourbon cocktail is made with milk and sugar! It’s cold and creamy, and works for brunch or evening.
  • Bourbon Sidecar A tangy spin on the classic Sidecar that’s classy and sophisticated.
  • Best Whiskey Sour The very best way to drink bourbon! Lemon, bourbon and simple syrup.
  • New York Sour This stunning sour has a whiskey sour on the bottom and a red wine layer on top.

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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  1. jason says:

    can you use MONTENEGRO AMARO LIQUEUR for the amaro?

    1. Alex Overhiser says:

      That would work!

  2. Justin M says:

    Made it with Jaeger. It was ok. Doubt I’ll make it again.

    1. Made this account because of Justin M says:

      Recipe: Mix these 5 ingredients. The main ingredient is Whiskey.
      Justin M: I substituted the main ingredient with something wildly different. will never make it again. Only 3 stars
      Everyone: ????????????

      1. Alex Overhiser says:


  3. RL says:

    Delicious and easy. Doubled it to make a large single serving for myself in a rocks glass with a lemon twist! Even those who don’t like bitter or bourbon will enjoy the citrusy taste!