In the realm of mixology, where the term "classic" is often worn as a badge of honour (and all too easily banded around), the Paper Plane holds a unique distinction. Birthed not from the Prohibition era or speakeasies of yore, but from the bustling modern city of Chicago in the early 21st century, it's a cocktail that, despite its relative infancy, has made a lasting imprint on cocktail culture and has all the hallmarks of a contender for this status in years to come.
As uplifting as a first-class window view, the Paper Plane invites you to embark on a tasteful journey without even leaving your home bar.
Named after the M.I.A song "Paper Planes" (chart-topping in its own right), the cocktail is the brainchild of Sam Ross. In 2007, while operating at the renowned Violet Hour, Ross sought to concoct a drink that was as nuanced as it was novel, without the pretentiousness that sometimes plagues craft cocktails. Thus, the Paper Plane was cleared for take-off, a symbol of demystified sophistication.
As any Aviation enthusiast will tell you, the success of a paper plane relies on balance. You need a perfect equilibrium of sweet, bitter, and sour. The inaugural sip introduces a citrusy kiss of lemon, making your taste buds flutter like a butterfly. This bright and tart note is promptly followed by the comforting depth of bourbon. But, just as you're settling in, the dual Italian amaro – Aperol and Amaro – sweeps in, leaving a complex, bitter finish that lingers like a fond memory.
It’s a drink that reminds us of the sheer magic of mixology: a sum far more enchanting than its parts.It's hardly surprising when you look at both the creator (also known for inventing other cult cocktails) and the similarities it has with the Last Word (which also features an easy equal-parts formula and was said to be Ross' starting point when he created this)
Ready to make one? Fasten your seat belts. Here's how to concoct this cocktail at home:
Paper Plane Recipe
35ml Fresh lemon juice
Place all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds - this isn't just mixing, it's an integral part of the ritual.
Strain the mixture into a chilled coupe glass.
Garnish with lemon twist.
Voila! Prepare for your tastebuds to take flight.
Now, a few helpful tips to elevate your Paper Plane experience:
Bourbon Selection: While you're free to use any bourbon you fancy, a high-rye variant works best to counterbalance the amari and bring forward spicy undertones. Bulleit or Four Roses Single Barrel are both good choices.
Freshness Matters: Never underestimate the power of fresh lemon juice. Bottled versions simply won’t cut it here. The vibrancy of fresh lemon is key to lifting the entire drink and setting the stage for the unfolding symphony of flavours.
Perfect the Shake: A good shake chills, dilutes, and aerates the cocktail, binding the flavours together. Overdo it, and you risk watering down your masterpiece; under-do it, and your cocktail will lack the desired texture and dilution. Shake until the exterior of the shaker becomes frosty and your fingers tingle – it's the perfect indicator.
Understanding Amaro: Amaro, meaning "bitter" in Italian, is a broad category of herbal liqueur traditionally consumed as an after-dinner digestif. It has a bittersweet flavour profile that is often complex and nuanced due to the variety of herbs, roots, flowers, bark, and/or citrus peels used in its preparation.
The exact recipes for most amari (the plural form of amaro) are closely guarded secrets, with some containing dozens of different ingredients. They can range in flavour from lightly bitter and sweet to heavily bitter and even syrupy. Some common examples include Campari, Cynar and Fernet-Branca.
The alcohol content in amaro can also vary greatly, from about 16% to 40%, depending on the brand. Amari are typically produced by macerating the ingredients in alcohol, then combining the filtrate with a sugar syrup.
Although amaro is most popular in Italy, similar herbal liqueurs are produced in other countries around the world. In recent years, amari have also become increasingly popular in craft cocktail circles, valued for their ability to add depth and complexity to a drink.
The Paper Plane, in its essence, captures the spirit of modern mixology: innovative, balanced, and decidedly approachable. It stands tall amidst the ranks of older, storied cocktails, proving that you don't always need a centuries-old recipe to make a lasting impression. And the best part? This ticket to refined drinking doesn't require a speakeasy password or a mixologist’s apprenticeship - just a bit of curiosity and four ingredients.
So here's to charting your own course and enjoying the flight, one sip at a time.