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Classy Paper Plane Cocktail

This simple yet sophisticated Paper Plane Cocktail is straightforward in flavor with bittersweet notes in every sip. It’s deliciously complex with bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino and fresh lemon juice.

A Modern Bourbon Cocktail Recipe

Sometimes you just need a simple and classy cocktail. And I find myself making this Paper Plane Cocktail quite often. It’s magical in its simplicity and my girlfriends agree! I love making it during at-home happy hours. Everyone always asks, “what is that beautiful drink!?” and they end up loving it as much as I do.

This Paper Plane Cocktail is basically straight liquor but it doesn’t feel like you’re drinking from a shot glass. The mix of bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and fresh lemon juice creates a beautifully balanced and pleasantly bitter flavor.

It also looks beautiful once poured into a cocktail glass (which is always a plus in my book!). The pale red and orange color is stunning and creates almost a deep sunset-like hue. It’s another reason why I love to make this cocktail for friends and family.

A pale orange paper plane drink with lemon garnish

What is A Paper Plane Cocktail?

This cocktail tastes like it’s been around for ages with its simple nature, complex flavors, and herbal qualities. But the truth is that the Paper Plane Cocktail was created in 2008! This recipe was crafted by an award-winning bartender named Sam Ross.

Ross named the cocktail after the song “Paper Planes” (by M.I.A), a popular hit at the time. He served the cocktail at Milk and Honey (his own NYC restaurant) with a little paper plane garnish.

It brings a smile to my face that new cocktails like this one are still being crafted. Sure, I like a fruity daiquiri or fancy cocktail sometimes, but I love simple drinks like this one. This cocktail perfectly showcases the four simple ingredients – bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and fresh lemon juice.

A pale orange paper plane drink with lemon garnish

Recipe Ingredients

Here are the ingredients that you need to make this cocktail at home.

  • Bourbon: Use a mid-range to high-quality bourbon for this recipe like Bulliet, Knob Creek, or Buffalo Trace.
  • Aperol: A bitter, orange-red hued apéritif (a drink used before a meal to stimulate the appetite).
  • Amaro Nonino: Another bitter ingredient with a hint of sweetness.
  • Fresh Lemon Juice: Always use freshly squeezed lemon juice!

What is Italian amaro?

Amaro Nonino (an Italian amaro) is a digestif that’s bitter and slightly sweet. A digestif is typically meant to be enjoyed after a meal.

This digestif has herbal and citrus qualities that can’t be matched by another ingredient. So, I highly recommend using this ingredient and not trying to substitute it!

What is Aperol?

Aperol is another bitter ingredient with hints of rhubarb, herbs, and citrus. It’s an aperitif that is meant to be enjoyed prior to a meal.

two paper plane cocktails, a simple drink that is pale orange in color, with lemon rind garnish

Recipe Variations

Pouring equal parts of the four listed ingredients is the classic way to make a Paper Plane Cocktail. Here are a few fun variations that you could try if you feel like getting creative.

  • Make a Paper Kamakazi: This is when you swap the bourbon for rum.
  • Try adding bitters: You can add bitters to the cocktail for a more pungent and complex flavor.
  • Use Campari instead of Aperol: Do this if you like your drinks extra sharp because Campari is very bitter!
  • Add Vermouth for a bit of sweetness: Adding vermouth (or swapping out on Aperol or Amaro Nonino) will create a smooth and sweet flavor.
A pale orange paper plane drink with lemon garnish

How to Make a Paper Plane Cocktail

Making this cocktail is really pretty simple. That’s why I love it so much! No fancy steps or equipment are required!

  • First, prep the lemon garnish twists. You’ll want to peel a lemon and then cut a thin strip of rind from the peel. You then twist it with your fingers and hold it there for 10 seconds. Voila! You have the cutest little cocktail garnish!
  • Then mix together equal parts of all four of the ingredients. Always use a cocktail shaker with a few ice cubes. Then the drink comes out perfectly chilled!
pouring a pale orange cocktail into a tall glass
  • Strain and pour into a cocktail glass. And that’s it! You can garnish with the lemon rind and serve immediately.
two paper plane cocktails, a simple drink that is pale orange in color, with lemon rind garnish

Tips for Success

Here are a few tips to follow when making a Paper Plane cocktail in your home bar.

  • Use a high-proof bourbon for the best flavor. The creator himself enjoyed using bourbon that was in the alcohol-proof range of 45%. Using a higher proof adds depth and body to the cocktail while having it still taste delicious.
  • Do not overshake the cocktail. Just give it a few quick shakes so that the drink comes out chilled and not watery.
  • Always use fresh lemon juice. I always have whole lemons in the kitchen because fresh lemon juice tops the bottled kind any day!
A pale orange paper plane drink with lemon garnish

Serving Suggestions

It’s happy hour time! Here are some of my favorite dishes that I like to serve with fun drinks like this Paper Plane Cocktail.

  • Charcuterie Boards: Meat and cheese boards are not just for having with a glass of wine! They go perfectly with some cocktails, especially this Paper Plane cocktail. The fatty meats and creamy cheeses cut the bitterness of the drink.
  • Cheese-based Appetizers: Smooth and rich cheeses go great with this cocktail. Try my Goat Cheese Balls because they’re fruity, fun, and so easy to make!
  • Fruity Salads: Any sort of salad with fruit is going to pair great with this drink. I suggest trying my Prosciutto and Melon Salad.
  • Ceviche: Keep the meal light and fresh with something simple like Quick and Easy Shrimp Ceviche.
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A paper plane cocktail with lemon garnish

Simple Paper Plane Cocktail

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  • Author: Krista
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 2 1x
  • Category: Cocktails
  • Method: Cocktail Shaker
  • Cuisine: American


This Paper Plane Cocktail has just bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. It’s chic, simple, and sophisticated!


  • 1 1/2 oz bourbon
  • 1 1/2 oz aperol
  • 1 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 oz. amaro nonino


  1. Lemon Twist Garnish: Place your lemon slice on a cutting board. Using a paring knife, carefully cut along the peel so as to separate the fruit from the peel. Remove the fruit part and set aside so all you are left with is the peel. Cut the peel so it becomes a long strip and then twist it, hold it in place for 10 seconds to help the peel hold its shape. Set aside.
  2. Mix Cocktail: Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker along with 4-5 cubes of ice. Secure the lid and shake vigorously until the shaker is frosted. Strain into a coup glass and top with lemon twist.


  • Serving Size: 1 cocktail
  • Calories: 183
  • Sugar: 8 g
  • Sodium: 1 mg
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Carbohydrates: 9 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 g

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