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The Paper Plane, Remixed

April 25, 2022

Story: Punch Staff

photos: Lizzie Munro

Partner Content

The Paper Plane, Remixed

April 25, 2022

Story: Punch Staff

photos: Lizzie Munro

Bartenders Sam Kiley and Samuel Miller offer dueling tropical takes on the modern classic cocktail.

Almost as soon as it was created in the late aughts by New York bartender Sam Ross, the Paper Plane—the equal-parts mix of bourbon, Aperol, lemon juice and Nonino amaro, loosely inspired by the pre-Prohibition Last Word—became a classic.

Yet, for all its simplicity, bartenders love to riff on the brightly hued, amaro-spiked Whiskey Sour. It seems there’s not a single component that can’t be tweaked or personalized in some way. Even the genesis of the drink points to its versatility: Though the first version, served at Chicago’s Violet Hour, was made with Campari, Ross later adjusted the herbal liqueur to the sweeter, less bitter Aperol.

In this way, the drink seems tailor-made for Punch’s Bartender in Residence Recipe Remix challenge, in which two bartenders are assigned the same drink template and base spirit and tasked with producing their own take. Here, Sam Kiley and Samuel Miller revisit the Paper Plane using Maker’s Mark, each workshopping the cocktail in a way that showcases their creative approach.

Since both bartenders have specialized in tropical drinks, it was little surprise that they each took the drink in tiki’s general direction. But almost all the other elements diverged, and the two finished drinks look very different indeed.

Kiley, who works at what’s been described as a “proto-tiki rum bar” in New Orleans, gives the Paper Plane subtle tropical tweaks in her Passion Fruit Down River riff. Kiley also prides herself on creating drinks that appeal to both novices and more seasoned cocktail pros. Her signature style leans into a “less is more” approach to building drinks, deliberately selecting fewer elements that individually offer more flavor. That ethos translated here into a drink with a streamlined list of ingredients and a classic presentation.

“The goal of this variation is to make it recognizable to its predecessors, honoring the balance of bitter and sweet,” Kiley explains.

The Passion Fruit Down River spotlights two flavorful but unexpected ingredients, incorporating passion fruit and minty, intensely bitter Fernet-Branca alongside standard-bearer Aperol. In addition, the citrus component is switched to grapefruit, nudging the drink closer to tiki classic territory.

The coupe glass presentation also nods to the original, while a final expression of orange oil accents the bourbon.

Passion Fruit Down River Recipe Remix
Recipe

Passion Fruit Down River

A variation that spotlights two flavorful but unexpected ingredients.

“The wood finishing in Maker’s Mark offers a sense of dryness that balances out the sweeter caramel and vanilla notes,” Kiley says. “The addition of the orange peel twist is a classic complement to bourbon, giving the sense of familiarity while also allowing the drinker to experience a new combination of flavors.”

Don’t discount the impact of that orange peel: “Withholding or adding citrus peels can change the quality of a cocktail,” Kiley notes. “You can play around with citrus peels when creating your own original cocktail or when improving upon a classic to better meet your palate.” For example, an orange twist can make a drink feel sweeter, while a lemon peel can brighten or add a sense of freshness, she says. Similarly, shaking a cocktail with a lime peel adds nuance from the lime oils that can’t be gleaned from lime juice alone.

In contrast, Samuel Miller—whose experience includes time at a tropical drinks–focused spot in San Francisco and a stint in Honolulu—offers a festive variation that’s harder to recognize on sight but retains the Paper Plane pedigree. With a penchant for rum and spirit-forward cocktails in general, Miller opts to supplement the bourbon base of his version with Jamaican rum.

“Missing In Action gives the Paper Plane a tropical escape,” Miller explains. “A split base of Maker’s Mark and aged Jamaican rum brings tropical fruit notes while still letting the bourbon’s soft vanilla and caramel shine.”

Missing In Action Recipe Remix
Recipe

Missing In Action

The Paper Plane takes a trip to the tropics.

In keeping with the tiki aesthetic, Miller’s Missing In Action is elaborate and layered. Why use one spirit—or amaro, or citrus—when you can use two? Astoundingly, the six-ingredient recipe retains the equal-parts construct.

“I chose to use Select Aperitivo to get a rhubarb bitterness, and Averna amaro to complement the vanilla and citrus notes from the spirit base.” However, Miller notes that any number of amari or aperitivo spirits could work in the drink, and he encourages experimentation. “There are so many great amari that could pair with this cocktail,” he says.

After that, he selected a lemon-orange juice combo, which is one of his “favorite juice blends, used often in tropical drinks.”

The drink then is shaken or briefly blended and presented in a Zombie glass, topped with crushed ice. “Crushed ice is key!” Miller insists. At home, ice can be crushed  using a Lewis bag and a mallet, or a gallon-size resealable plastic bag and a meat tenderizer, he advises.

Dual garnishes of mint and lemon peel add the finishing aromatic and visual touch. The end result: a drink that’s “soft and crushable,” Miller says.

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