Corona Cocktail Club with Matthew: How to make my favorite drink

It is in these dark times, with the city shut down due to global pandemic, that a man has got to hold onto something. A man has got to believe in something.

I am holding on tight to a cocktail shaker.

I believe I will have another drink.

That’s not exactly Confucian wisdom right there. To be honest, I stole “A Man Has Got To Believe in Something…I Believe I’ll Have Another Drink” off a thrift store t-shirt my college roommate Nate used to wear. A philosopher worthy of this moment, I am not. A worthy bartender I am…also not.

But somebody has to make that cocktail, champ. It’s not gonna make itself.

And so I have showered. I have sanitized. I have put on a backward baseball cap that I turn forward only “to look professional” during work Zoom meetings. And I am here, at your service, in a series we’re gonna call, “Corona Cocktail Club.”

I’m gonna help you make a fancy, tasty, classy drink that you can sip on with your spouse as you dream of better days, or hatch a plot to sell the children. And I’m gonna do it despite admitting that, hey, I’m not that good at making fancy cocktails. If I can do it, so can you.

The recipe

Let’s start with the drink I have made more than any other drink since first sipping one all the way back when Obama was president and we had a functioning global pandemic response team.

It’s called a Paper Plane. It tastes like a classic, but in fact was only invented by cocktail icon Sam Ross about a decade ago.

I love it. And judging by the response of the dozens of people I have made it for over the years, there’s a good chance that it’s your jam, too.

The Paper Plane is a newfangled variant of the classic gin cocktail, The Last Word. (Which you should also definitely try, by the way.) It borrows the Last Word’s basic structure: four ingredients, each ingredient in equal parts. That basic design is great for two reasons.

It’s perfectly balanced. And even a space cadet like me can make it.

Here’s the Sam Ross recipe. 

¾ oz. bourbon
¾ oz. Aperol
¾ oz. Amaro Nonino
¾ oz. fresh lemon juice

I can hear your whining now. Oh, but Matttthhew, I don’t have any of the stuff to make a fancccccccccccccy cocktail mwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwah.

Chin up, soldier. Yes, you do have bourbon (at least I hope you do) and if you have two lemons, you also have lemon juice. 

If you need a quick restock of your bar to make this drink or any other, there are many conveniently socially distanced options. You can obviously get liquor from the curbside pickup at most any grocery store.  Earlier this month I got a delivery from Omaha’s own Spirit World, which has taught me a lot about booze over the years.

If you want a slightly cheaper option, there’s always the Internet. Did you know that Amazon, via Whole Foods, will deliver you booze? Well they will.

A brief thought about bourbon: On the recommendation of Clark Ross, the co-owner of Mercury and the King of Nebraska Cocktailing, I started using Old GrandDad 100 Proof Bonded to make many of my bourbon drinks. Save the fancy bourbon for sipping – Old GrandDad will run you roughly $25 for a liter (and in Corona times, shipping.)

For this drink, I actually prefer Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon, which is also quite affordable at roughly $20 a bottle. I find Four Roses to be a fantastic cheap bourbon that works well in most cocktails.

Another tip before you start doing your Paper Plane grocery shopping: Amaro Nonino is fantastic, but also really pricey. I save my bottle of Nonino for sipping.  I tend to substitute the similar but much cheaper Amaro Montenegro in this drink.

So my cheaper recipe for one Paper Plane looks like this:

¾ oz Four Roses bourbon (substitute most any bourbon you have on hand)
¾ oz Aperol
¾ oz Amaro Montenegro
¾ oz lemon juice
(Note: Squeeze those lemons yourself, slacker. It’s worth it. If you are a champion slacker like me, assign this duty to your spouse.)

Shake that puppy with ice until it’s satisfyingly cold. It will get really cold really fast.

Pour it into a coupe glass if you have one. For this drink, I tend to chill the glass with ice beforehand, of course dumping that ice out before I pour my Paper Plane into the coupe.

Voila! You have just made yourself a crowd favorite cocktail, and quickly because it’s so damn easy.

I have served this drink to people who love whiskey, and people who profess to hate whiskey. I have served it to grandmothers, granddaughters, uncles, friends, neighbors, strangers, and of course, on many, many occasions, Sarah.

People tend to like it. Because it’s smooth. Because it’s nuanced. Because it’s different. 

If there’s a better way to spend a Coronavirus Cocktail Happy Hour, I haven’t found one. Stay safe and slightly tipsy out there, friends.


I don’t like whiskey but your description (and hilarious writing) makes me want to give it a shot! Now to find the Amaro Montenegro….

Can’t wait to make this cocktail. Thinking about my bar- would Braulio work as a substitution for either Amaro Nonino or Amaro Montenegro? Is it worth investing in another Amaro for this drink?

Jake – Sadly Braulio will not work, in my opinion. Too herbaceous and sharp. But heck, try it and tell me how it tastes.
I think having a couple different Amaros on hand is the way to go, since they tend to be so crazy different from one another.

We got amaro Montenegro and tried it side by side with Braulio. Braulio was far too intense and threw it out of balance— Amaro Montenegro much better outcome!

Shannon — Do it! And post your photo and your take on the Paper Plane in the comments when you make one…even if you don’t like it.
I would try Spirit World, Hy-Vee curbside, Wohlner’s curbside, etc for Montenegro if you are in Omaha. If that doesn’t work, or if you live elsewhere, you can probably easily get it shipped to you online. Might cost a couple extra bucks.

Is $25 for a bottle cheap? To me, if you can find a mid-shelf bourbon that is good in cocktails, that’s just smart drinking.
I tend to save the top-shelf stuff for consuming as God intended:
A 2 ounce pour, neat.

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