In 2008, the most complicated cocktail I knew how to make was chocolate milk. But who could blame me? I was only eight.
Just miles away from me in Chicago, however, a new cocktail bar named The Violet Hour opened its doors and premiered a much more complex drink: the Paper Plane.
The cocktail became an instant success and has joined the ranks of classic cocktails. In just the 15 years since it first debuted, the Paper Plane has become a staple on cocktail menus worldwide—particularly when it’s garnished with an adorable little paper plane.
I’ll apologize right here for not including one in the photos for this post 🙂
Years later, I had the pleasure to manage a craft cocktail bar in the Chicago Loop myself, where we happily placed our clarified spin of this modern classic on our bar’s menu.
Luckily for you, you don’t need to be a professional bartender to make this balanced and versatile cocktail. It’s actually rather “plane” and simple to make—albeit slightly more difficult than chocolate milk.
History of the Paper Plane Cocktail
The Violet Hour—now one of Chicago’s top craft cocktail bars—commissioned New York bartenders Sasha Petraske and Sam Ross from Milk and Honey to develop their cocktail menu. You may recognize these names as legends in the bar industry, who are credited with making other modern classics such as the Penicillin and the Gold Rush.
Ross and Petraske’s goal was to make a drink inspired by the Last Word cocktail (a popular drink during prohibition), which used gin, chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and lime juice in equal proportions.
After much experimentation using different ingredients, the pair created a recipe using equal parts bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Nonino, and lemon juice.
The bourbon brings a warm and robust foundation to the cocktail, while the Amaro Nonino adds depth and complexity with its herbal and fruity notes.
Aperol, with its bittersweet orange flavor, provides a vibrant and refreshing twist. (Fun fact: The cocktail was originally created with Campari, which turned out to be too bitter, so Ross and Petraske quickly changed it to Aperol).
Finally, the freshly squeezed lemon juice adds to the underlying fruity notes in Amaro Nonino and supplies a bright acidity that harmonizes the flavors, with a zesty kick.
But why is the cocktail called a Paper Plane?
At the time Ross and Petraske were crafting Violet Hour’s menu, M.I.A.’s song Paper Planes was topping the charts. The two noted it was constantly stuck in their heads while creating the cocktail, so, of course, they named the drink after the song.
The Paper Plane was an instant success. Today, it’s seen in bars worldwide and appears in many publications, including Regarding Cocktails. Its modern origins, balanced flavor profile, accessibility, and enduring popularity have cemented its place in the cocktail canon.
How to Make a Paper Plane Cocktail for Yourself
The Paper Plane is one of the simplest cocktails you can make at home. Like the Naked and Famous cocktail, the Paper Plane only uses four ingredients, all of which are used in equal parts.
What You’ll Need:
- .75oz Bourbon
- .75oz Aperol
- .75oz Amaro Nonino
- .75oz Lemon Juice
How to Make the Drink:
- Combine all ingredients into shaker.
iceand shake for 10-15 seconds.
- Fine strain into chilled coupe glass.
- Garnish with a lemon twist and tiny paper plane (optional).
And that’s it!
It’s a really simple, balanced, versatile, and timeless cocktail. Feel free to experiment with different types of bourbon and whiskey to make different variations on this modern classic.
Next time you’re looking to make an easy but complex-tasting drink for you or your friends, take a shot at making one of these. The Paper Plane is a cocktail that doesn’t fold.
Paper Plane Cocktail
- Hawthorne Strainer
- .75 oz Bourbon
- .75 oz Amaro Nonino
- .75 oz Aperol
- .75 oz Fresh lemon juice
- Combine all ingredients into shaker
- Shake until cold - 10-15 seconds
- Double strain into coupe class
- Garnish with mini-paper plane if you want to be extra pretentious 🙂
This article was written by Chloe Noteboom
Chloe is a freelance writer for the Chloe Noteboom Company, which specializes in many topics, including cocktails. She has managed several high-end cocktail bars in Chicago, has three honors degrees from Michigan’s top writing school, and has worked as a congressional staffer.