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Drink Of The Week: Paper Airplane

This week I had originally intended to write about the Aviation cocktail, a drink so good that I was able to find an excuse to feature it earlier in the year. It was on this date, December 17th, 1903, that the Wright brothers sustained the world's first controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight in a craft they built. They are generally credited with the invention of the airplane.

With the Aviation already spoken for, I decided to describe another one of my favorites: the Paper Airplane cocktail. The 1903 Wright Flyer was definitely lightweight, but it wasn't made of paper. Orville and Wilbur built their frame out of spruce and covered it with muslin. But anyone who has folded a sheet of paper and tried to make it fly can appreciate their achievement. I am hoping you can also appreciate the flavors of this cocktail.

I'm not sure why this drink is called the Paper Airplane. It is anything but flimsy. I like Campari, and this drink is a great way to feature it. However, this may not be the one to spring on your friends if they aren't as familiar with the bitter spectrum of flavors. And yet, the drink itself isn't exactly bitter so much as dry.

Paper Airplane Cocktail
.75 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon
.75 oz Lemon Juice
.75 oz Campari
.75 oz Amaro Nonino

Shake over ice, strain, and serve in a chilled cocktail glass.

This cocktail is credited to Sammy J. Ross of Milk & Honey, and although it specifies Buffalo Trace bourbon, I've substituted others with success. Also worth noting is that we have two potable bitters in equal proportion in this cocktail. These are different from cocktail bitters which are normally only added in dashes. Of course, there is Campari which plays a prominent role in just about everything that requires it, but we also have the oddly-named Amaro Nonino.

Nonino is an Italian family name and a company that has been making award-winning grappa for over a hundred years. One of their products is Amaro, a bitter digestif. But Nonino is certainly not the only amaro out there. It's also not the most bitter. It has a great balance of sweetness and herbal intensity that makes it a nice sipper as well as a wonderful addition or substitution in cocktails. Amaro Nonino may be a little hard to find, but it's worth the search. I picked up mine at Thomas Liquor on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

It's not easy to make a drink taste dry with all of this flavor. Maybe that's why I like this cocktail so much—because it's so unusual. When it first hits your tongue you think it's going to be sweet. That's when the surprise hits you and you find it to be crisp and light. And yet there's bourbon in here! Just as you set it down you'll want another sip, and before long, you'll wonder where it all went.

26 comments to Drink Of The Week: Paper Airplane

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Deana Smythe Healy and Deana Smythe Healy, Randy Hanson. Randy Hanson said: Fresh Sip, Drink Of The Week: Paper Airplane - http://summitsips.com/?p=3107 [...]

  • Great excuse for a drink! I will have to try this one. I made an attempt to get some Amaro Nonino about four years ago and came up dry -- guess I need to get back on the hunt. It's a fabulous bottle.

  • Sammy's a heck of a guy, btw. I'd trust any drink of his.

  • David, Nonino could earn a spot in a 13 bottle bar, if not for this drink then for the Dogwood Manhattan I posted a while back. That one comes via Michael Rubel of The Violet Hour and it's pretty much a subbed variant of a Perfect Manhattan. It's also my favorite "go to" cocktail. I think I am only seeing the tip of the iceberg using Nonino. It's so versatile.

  • I first tried it and a few others several years back, as mentioned. Fell in love with it. Snapped a pic with my phone so I could recognize the bottle in my search (pic is still there). Ultimately, never picked it up. I'm quite fond of Averna as well.

    I came up with the following a couple of years back. It should work well with the Nonino and any other cognac-based Orange Liqueur. If you try it, let me know what you think. I haven't tried it recently. In reading it here, seems like it could use more tequila -- modify as you want:

    1.5oz Reposado Tequila
    0.75oz Green Chartreuse
    0.75oz Mandarin Napoleon
    0.25oz Demerara Simple Syrup
    1 dash Averna

    Squeeze wide orange peel over glass to release oils, then wipe over the rim of glass.

  • Oh! Any excuse to use Chartreuse is worth it for me. I'll give this a try later today. I am thinking instead of more tequila, maybe dropping the simple and upping the Nonino to give it a chance with the Chartreuse. Interesting. . .

  • Trying it again myself. I'm thinking agave syrup might work, but then again might not marry well with the Averna. Yeah, from your posts, I thought this one might be up your alley. The goal was "tequila and oranges" (the Mandarin providing the taste, the Chartreuse the flower, the Averna, the bitter).

  • Okay, just tried it again, and I think it holds up as is. Big tequila up front with the sweet finish. It maybe too sweet for some, but I content that not every drink needs to be dry. I will stop hijacking the thread now.

    Speaking of Campari, you a fan of Aperol or Sanbitter soda?

  • I don't mind the sweet, but my Demerara is rich 2:1. Nonino is about as sweet as Italian vermouth, and it's not all that bitter. I like the combination of ideas you have going, but I don't have Averna. I love Aperol but I haven't tried Sanbitter. Are you a fan of Fernet Branca?

  • I use rich syrup too, btw. My earlier Fernet experiences were bad -- still haven't fully recovered. :)

    Sanbitter is non-alcoholic Campari sparkling soda (from Pelligrino). I plan to introduce it in drinks on the site soon, since I can do Campari.

  • For those who read this, let me correct the name of the drink: it should be "César Chávez" not my horrible spelling.

  • Randy!

    This is a phenomenal drink! I've been making it for a while, and I actually use Del Capo with much success. Sadly, being in MI we have very few Amari available here so I am forced to bootleg mine in from IL, but that's another story.

    Also, I just scored 12 of these exact glasses on the bay (I intend to use only vintage glassware for my bar when it opens).

    Great blog all the way around!!!


  • Thanks, Dave!
    I am a huge fan of vintage glassware, but I find this glass a little small for many recipes that use classic proportions. There are probably others that look just like it with a larger bowl. Still, it photographs well and I like the stem with its "bamboo" wave.

    Regarding the Amaro, you can mail order Nonino from a few places, and I think it's worth that effort. I use it often enough in my Dogwood Manhattan, so I like to keep it around.

    You probably already see my latest post as of this writing which is the Jasmine cocktail. It's similar to the Paper Airplane with the sweet/bitter/sour combination, but it's based on gin instead of whiskey.

    Finally, when does your bar open?

  • I've got a drink I call the Wild Tiger with bourbon, lemon, punt e mes & benedictine that was inspired by the Last Word, which also I suspect may have been the inspiration behind the Paper Airplane.

    We're doing construction right now, so hopefully we'll be open in April. We're going to have a seasonal menu of 12 drinks, a weekly flowing bowl, a daily drink special (ingredient dependent) and finally a "bible" of 100 classics that you get only if you're a regular.

    Stop by if you're in Detroit anytime!

  • Dave, that sounds like a fantastic destination. I am sure we will all be reading about it before long, but assuming it's not called "Dave K's", what's the name of this must-visit springtime Detroit attraction?

  • Also, Dave, how can I get on your x-mas list next year for one of those ice-picks? ;-)

  • The Sugar House
    2130 Michigan Ave.
    Detroit 48216

    Ice picks are $100, hand made to order, no two are alike.

  • Randy,
    Hey, just thought I'd send along a link to something called She Knows. Looks like they liked your picture of this drink as well.



  • Ah, the truest measure of success -- people start stealing your content.

  • Paul

    Just tried a Paper Airplane a few minutes ago, and this is ONE fabulous drink ! The bourbon hits you at the same time as the Campari swizzles on your tongue, and then with the tartness following you pick out gems from the Amaro Nonino and encircling it all in a light haze is the lemon juice. This cocktail is just so complex but without getting funky, and it balances a wide variation of tastes like on a tightrope, and you manage crossing the expanse and coming over to the other side feeling like you have just been through a thrill, and this cocktail is just that, a tasting thrill ! Do you know anything about its history ? Is Sammy the creator, or the faciliatator ? Anyhow, it's one of the top five cocktails in the world according to me !

    • Paul, welcome to the flight club! I do love this drink, but sadly, I am out of Nonino at the moment. DaveK had a comment above that seems like a plausible inspiration for the recipe, but I think you'd have to track down Mr. Ross to find out for sure.

      I do enjoy reading your tasting notes. Perhaps a cocktail blog is in your future? ;-)

  • Eric

    Two issues.

    1) The cocktail is called Paper Plane, not Paper Airplane. It is named after the song by MIA.
    2) The recipe calls for Aperol, not Campari.

    • Eric, yes, what you are describing is the Paper Plane. This recipe is for the Paper Airplane. The history has been researched, and they are obviously related. There's also the Balsa Airplane--each with tweaks to the ingredients. The drink featured here appears exactly as documented by Toby Maloney who served it at The Violet Hour. The current understanding is that Sammy's version evolved from the one with Camapri, Toby serving this version and Sammy serving the one with Aperol. It's convenient that they are named differently which helps us keep them straight. I didn't know about the song.

  • Megan

    I am having an airplane themed first birthday party for my son next week. I wanted a bourbon based cocktail to serve to the adults so my husband suggested I make this drink. We had a little preview tasting party this week and it was a hit amongst the 3 people I made it for. I am going to make some paper airplanes to accompany the cocktails. Very excited to serve this cocktail and think it will add a nice tough for our guests.

    • Thanks for the comment, Megan. I am glad people keep trying this one and posting their experience with it. I forget about it sometimes and the comments help remind me to make it more often. I hope your guests enjoy it. Do you have ideas for an alternative if the Campari rubs them the wrong way? You could always pull out a few bottles of bourbon and serve whiskey "flights".

  • Megan

    We'll serve beer, champagne, and sparkling water for those wanting standard beverages. The three people who helped me taste test it are attending the party all like sour cocktails and campari so it was a hit with them. :-)

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