When Sam Ross, then a bartender at New York’s Milk & Honey, invented the Paper Plane for Chicago’s Violet Hour bar in 2008, there was little to indicate that the simple, four-equal-parts cocktail would become a modern classic. But that’s just what it did, and in the intervening years, home bartenders have been searching for adequate replacements for the drink’s most niche ingredient: Amaro Nonino Quintessentia. Now available around the world, Amaro Nonino was a relatively rare find when the Paper Plane was developed, one that, like most amari, provided a proprietary flavour that could be mimicked but never replicated. It’s also one of the few amari that works well as both a cocktail ingredient and for sipping.
Produced by Nonino Distillatori in Percoto, Italy, since 1992, Amaro Nonino is the amaro world’s most singular distillate. With its high alcohol (35 per cent) and easily recognizable pharmaceutical-like bottle (a reference to amaro’s historical use as a medicinal remedy), the cocktail-king-making liquor is easily distinguished from the masses. The high alcohol content specifically is what makes Amaro Nonino ideal in a cocktail—it can stand up to other high-proof spirits and, unlike other amaro brands, shine as a distinctive part of the whole. This, along with its secret blend of Friulian botanicals, makes it ideal for sipping on its own.
Whereas many amari emphasize botanical bitterness (amaro is “bitter” in Italian)—a lithe and mouth-shocking herbaceousness purported to aid digestion—Amaro Nonino’s Friulian botanicals are rounded off by the slightly sweet, mouthcoating grape distillate. Because of its textural depth and gentle flavour, it is as appropriate over a long evening as it is as a quick digestif after a meal. Whereas amari like Fernet-Branca and Cynar highlight one botanical note, it is almost impossible to nail down the exact blend in Amaro Nonino’s beguiling recipe. So why bother trying to find a replacement.