It’s a riff on Seattle’s famous Last Word, but with bourbon and Aperol, a fancy take on a whiskey sour.
Every two years or so, a cocktail for one reason or another gets ordered again and again even though it doesn’t appear on many drink menus. In Seattle right now, that drink is the Paper Plane.
It has supplanted the Jungle Bird as the “It” drink around town.
Equal parts bourbon, Nonino Quintessentia amaro, Aperol and fresh lemon juice, Paper Plane tastes like a fancy whiskey sour, the ideal drink for people who don’t like the boozy taste of whiskey. The fruitiness and the sweetness from the amari make it go down easy.
It’s a popular drink in New York City, San Francisco and Toronto. I’ve also seen it requested more frequently around Seattle of late. At the Capitol Hill bar Saint John’s, it was listed as a special on the board, and just as quickly, it was crossed off because the bar ran out of the ingredients after so many orders.
New York Times cocktail writer Robert Simonson anointed Paper Plane one of the “modern classics” in his recent book “A Proper Drink.”
Here, though, the drink is likely taking off because it riffs on Seattle’s most famous cocktail, the “Last Word.”Esteemed bartender Murray Stenson made that gin drink famous at Zig Zag Cafe. If you’ve never heard of the Last Word, it’s because it’s not a mainstream cocktail, more of an acquired taste, too herbaceous, some say.
(I once ordered the Last Word for former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni, and he almost spit it onto my lap, complaining I gave him cough syrup.)
Well, bartender Sam Ross of the then-Milk & Honey in New York City made a more approachable take. He swapped out the maraschino liqueur and green chartreuse for the less bracing Aperol and Nonino to add orange zest, rhubarb, caramel and licorice notes. He replaced gin and lime with bourbon and lemon to give it a whiskey-sour foundation.
The result is a robust drink fit for fall but pleasant for summer because of its citrusy, sweet-and-sour taste.
The drink is named after the M.I.A. song “Paper Planes” because that was playing in the background when Ross came up with this concoction.
Cocktail writer Kara Newman featured Paper Plane in her recent book “Shake. Stir. Sip.” and calls it one of her favorites. “It’s a beautiful cocktail, the vibrant orange hue … it’s striking to look at. People see it across the room; it’s hard to miss,” she said. “Bartenders have fun garnishing it too. Once, a bartender served me this drink with a paper plane in the coupe glass.”
You can order Paper Plane at most craft-cocktail bars in the Seattle area. Most experienced bartenders should know how to make it. It’s also been on the menu at Liberty on Capitol Hill since August.
It’s a good drink to serve at your house party to impress guests — easy to make and easy to remember since all the portions are equal. I suggest using a high-proof bourbon (at least 43 percent ABV) to punch it up. I use Old Weller 107. Another good value bourbon is Old Forester 100. Both have orange notes to complement the cocktail. A good, cheap alternative is Evan Williams bourbon, which is what most bars use to make this drink.
¾ ounce bourbon
¾ ounce Nonino Quintessentia amaro
¾ ounce Aperol
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a glass.