The 4th of July weekend practically forces sunny cocktail parties.
Imagine yourself in the yard grilling meat, the still uncomfortable direct sun in the late afternoon, one of those days when you wonder if this is an acceptable time to start drinking and then decide that you don’t care anyway. And if you’re like me, you’re often faced with a set of conflicting instincts: it’s too hot for the whisky, but you want some of the whisky. The weather prohibits sweetness, but you want it refreshing and summery. You don’t want a glass of juice, but you would like the overall effect to be juicy. It’s like an enigma. What to do?
We humbly submit, in response, the cardboard plane. This space is usually reserved for new and old classics, and many of them would work here – the Whiskey Smash, the Kentucky Buck, the New York Sour and so on – but this original cocktail, invented at the San Diego cocktail bar The Lion’s Share a few summers ago is one of my favorites I’ve ever done. This drink is basically what happens when you start with a vibe and work backwards: we wanted to make the juiciest cocktail possible and looked to see how far bourbon’s natural affinity for orange and grapefruit could get us there.
Being “juicy” in this case isn’t just a function of adding juice, which can be sweet and flabby and lacking in precision, but rather of leaning into the inherent character of a few of our favorite liquors. To start, we grabbed Cointreau – the classic French triple sec, easily one of the best orange liqueurs ever made – and rolled it out here in hefty amounts, giving the drink the irrepressible fresh juiciness we were looking for. . Matching who is Amaro Meletti, among the most floral of Italian amari, with a fragrant, grapefruit-like bitterness and juicy quality all its own. Pair them with a relatively sweet bourbon, for the oak and structure, lemon to balance the sweetness, and a touch of grapefruit, and you’ve got a summer cocktail that’s essentially a liquid citrus love letter, like a Tangy whiskey starburst.
As for the name, once the recipe was finished, we immediately recognized it as a child of Sam Ross’ amazing Paper Plane. It’s fresher than its predecessor, with more citrus where the other would have grassy complexity, but with a similar textured bitterness and tart finish. At five ingredients, it’s also a little clumsier than the paper airplane, so we’ve named it the cardboard airplane, as an expression of the sincerest form of flattery. And while a cardboard airplane won’t fly very long, we think it’s good enough for a few laps around the backyard. Enjoy a few this holiday weekend, if you feel so compelled.
Add all ingredients to a cocktail mold and shake vigorously over ice. Strain into a highball glass over fresh ice and garnish with a grapefruit zest.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Bourbon: Despite how cool this cocktail is, it still packs a punch – Cointreau is 40% alcohol and Amaro Meletti is 32, so this drink works best with a milder bourbon, something near 80 degrees. Four Roses Yellow Label would be amazing, Evan Williams, Jim Beam, Ancient Age or Benchmark would all work. The bourbon here provides the woody backbone but isn’t really the star, so as long as you keep it under 90 degrees I wouldn’t care too much about it.
Cointreau: My vote for the best orange liqueur. The only other I would consider using here is Combier, which I haven’t tried in this application but is also very good. Keep to one of these two, however. While the quality of your triple-sec is always important (a drink is only as good as its weakest link), that’s especially the case here.
Amaro Meletti: Meletti has, as mentioned, the juicy profile you are really looking for, as well as being the perfect blend of floral and bitter. Other amari work better or worse, depending on the bottling. If you can’t find Meletti, I recommend amaro from CioCiaro, Montenegro or Nonino – it won’t be perfect, but any of them will make a totally delicious cocktail.