To make a White Russian, simply combine vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream then serve over ice. Keep in mind, many people substitute the cream component for milk or half-and-half due to the original recipe’s relatively high-calorie count, however, using milk does result in a thin drink. While early printed recipes called for Coffee Southern, an American whiskey-based liqueur, the product is no longer available and Kahula is most often used as the coffee liqueur with Tia Maria also a popular choice. The most commonly used proportions are two ounces of vodka and one ounce of coffee liqueur along with a splash of heavy cream. How large of a splash of cream becomes a matter of personal preference. Further, using more Kahlua with less vodka results in a sweeter version of the drink.
It is widely believed that the drink was first created in 1949 by Gustave Tops, a Belgian barman, who also created the Black Russian (a White Russian without cream) at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels in honor of Perle Mesta, then the United States ambassador to Luxembourg who legend states walked into the hotel’s bar and asked for “something chill.” Other sources state that Gustave Tops merely created the Black Russian in Mesta’s honor with the cream not being added until some point in the 1960s by an unknown third party.
Mesta, incidentally, remains quite the historical figure. Active in the National Woman’s Party and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, she supported Harry S. Truman who rewarded her with the ambassadorship that led to the creation of both the Black and White Russians. Mesta threw lavish, festive parties bringing together senators, congressmen, cabinet secretaries, and other luminaries in bipartisan, high-class soirees with invitations to her parties a sure sign of one’s membership in Washington’s inner circle of political society. An old friend of the Eisenhowers, her social position remained strong throughout the 1950s and she remained an avid hostess well into her later years.
Regardless, with vodka as the main ingredient, both cocktails inherited Russia in the name. During the next decade and a half, the cocktail spread throughout the western hemisphere with the codification of the original recipe appearing in California’s Oakland Tribune on November 21, 1965, as, “White Russian. 1oz. each Southern, vodka, cream,” with “Southern” referring to the aforementioned Coffee Southern. Lapsing into cocktail obscurity due to the declining popularity of cream and milk-based cocktails, a high-sugar content, and packing serious calories, the 1998 cult classic film The Big Lebowski brought back the drink’s popularity. The film’s main character, The Dude, drinks a total of eight White Russians throughout the film, with another dropped on the floor, however, he refers to the drink as a Caucasian.
The most common variation on the White Russian is with the proportion of the ingredients and we encourage experimentation to find your preferred ratio. With proportions established, many bartenders prefer to float the cream on top of the drink while others mix them together with a hard shake and strain into a highball glass. We prefer the appearance of the drink with the cream floating on top. While we played with numerous bitters combinations, results proved negligible at best.
For health concerns, many people swap the cream out for almond milk, coconut cream, or use a soy creamer to mimic the heavy cream without the calories.
Many variations of the White Russian exist today.
- The Dirty Russian, made using chocolate milk instead of cream.
- The Salted Caramel White Russian, made by first rimming the glass in caramel sauce and coarse sea salt, then drizzling caramel on the inside of the glass, and finished by following your preferred White Russian recipe. Many advocates of this method also use a caramel infused vodka.
- The White Belgian uses chocolate liqueur instead of coffee liqueur.
- The White Canadian uses goat’s milk in place of cream.
- A White Christmas, using peppermint cream.
- The White Cuban swaps rum for vodka.
- The White Mexican uses horchata instead of cream.
- Japanese jigger
- Hawthorne strainer
- Rocks glass
- Bar spoon
- 1 large ice cube
- ice cubes for shaking
- 2 oz Stolichnaya Vodka
- 1 oz Kahlua Coffee Liqueur
- heavy cream
- Place a large ice cube into the old-fashioned glass.
- Add two ounces of vodka, and one ounce of coffee liqueur into the shaker.
- Fill the shaker with ice and shake for twenty seconds. Strain into the old-fashioned glass.
- Use a bar spoon to create a layer of heavy cream on the top of the drink.