Looking at the recipe for a White Russian, you immediately see how closely related it is to the Black Russian. Because by adding cream to what initially was a mix of Vodka and Kahlua, the cocktail not only turns white. And it also becomes richer, sweeter, and heavier on calories.
The beauty of this drink lies in its simplicity. It only needs three ingredients to make it. And just like with a Black Russian, you can make a beautiful White Russian in a minute. And even though you might know the drink from the Big Lebowski, a popular 90s movie, the White Russian is around for a lot longer.
History of the White Russian
When looking into the history of the Black and White Russian, one quickly comes across the fact that both are not actually related to Russia in any way. The term "Russian" is only used because Vodka is the base of both drinks and the main ingredient. And as Vodka is more or less omnipresent in Russia, both these drinks got named accordingly.
And there's a funny side fact: The Black Russian was mentioned in writing for the first time in 1949. According to Oxford Dictionary, the first mention of a White Russian was in 1965, 16 years later. But indeed, historians found that long before both drinks were invented, a Russian cookbook recommended mixing coffee liqueur with cream. And that is the recipe for a White Russian if you strip out the Vodka. So, who knows if the origin of the White Russian is somehow related to Russia after all.
But let's get back to the White Russian cocktail as we know it today. The first mention from 1965 was in the Oakland Tribune newspaper. A simple recipe was added as an insert asking for 1 ounce of each: Vodka, cream, and southern. "Southern" refers to a coffee liqueur brand available around that time.
But even though the drink had existed since the 60s, it took until the 90s to gain popularity. When it starred in the Big Lebowski as "the Dude's" favorite thing to drink, the White Russian was suddenly one of the most sought-after drinks in the world. And just like the movie itself, the cocktail developed somewhat of a cult following. This hype ultimately established the cocktail and its recipe. Today, it's something every bartender should know how to make.
How to make the best White Russian
When making such a simple cocktail, details do matter. So to make the best White Russian, you should use quality products, carefully measure the ratios, and keep a few other things in mind. But let's start with the ingredients.
First and foremost, you need a solid Vodka base. If you don't have a favorite brand: Absolut Vodka is a great choice and quite affordable. But most importantly, stay away from flavored Vodkas. Those add artificial aromas you most likely don't want in your drink. And even more so when making it for the first time.
Next up is the coffee liqueur. For me, Kahlúa is the best choice as it is good value for money. -The delicious Mexican coffee liqueur is a staple in bars around the globe for a reason.
And the final ingredient that will turn our Black Russian into a white one is heavy cream. Some recipes replace heavy cream with lighter options like milk. But the cocktail really does depend on the rich and creamy texture heavy cream is adding. Therefore, if you mix your drink with milk, you will get something similar but not quite as tasty.
The ideal ratio strongly depends on personal preferences. But I like a 2:1:1. Two parts Vodka, one part coffee liqueur, and one part cream. Mix Vodka and coffee liqueur in a mixing glass with plenty of ice and strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Then carefully pour over the heavy cream.
For that beautiful swirl effect, slowly stir the drink. Remember, that only works if you gently float the heavy cream on top. So be careful at that step.
White Russian variations
Technically, of course, the White Russian is already a twist itself. Namely, of the Black Russian. But still, the White Russian offers plenty of room for its own tweaks. There are few other cocktails where this is so easy.
The obvious way is to flavor the heavy cream and therefore change the overall taste of the cocktail. A popular twist following this principle is, for instance, a Pumpkin Spiced White Russian. But there are also other ways to tweak the recipe. By replacing the heavy cream with skimmed milk, you get a Skinny Russian. To get a Blind Russian, you use Irish cream like Baileys instead of heavy cream, and in a Mudslide, you have to combine both Irish cream and heavy cream.
- 1 Jigger
- 2 oz Absolut Vodka
- 1 oz Kahlúa
- 1 oz Heavy cream
- Fill an Old Fashioned glass with ice and set it aside.
- Mix Vodka and Kahlúa in a mixing glass with ice until well-chilled.
- Strain the mix into the Old Fashioned glass.
- Gently float the heavy cream on top and gently swirl while serving.