Over the years the White Russian enjoyed steady yet understated popularity. It’s chocolatey, coffee flavor and rich feel generally limited the cocktail to being served after dinner or with dessert.
The White Russian may proudly take its place in the pantheon of classic legendary cocktails, thanks almost entirely to Jeff Bridges and the Coen Brothers.
The cocktail featured prominently in the 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski, in which The Dude, perpetual slacker and White Russian enthusiast (referring to them as “Caucasians”), is depicted drinking or holding the cocktail almost continuously throughout the movie. The popularity of the film catapulted the creamy cocktail from relative obscurity onto cocktail bars all across the country.
For many of us it’s difficult to believe the White Russian wasn’t always cool. Technically a variation of the Black Russian, at some point during the 1960s some enterprising mixologist added a dollop of cream.
Like the Black Russian, the White Russian is technically a vodka drink flavored with Kahlua. The addition of heavy cream adds a velvety, decadent richness to the nutty, roasted coffee—almost like a boozy milkshake.
2 oz Vodka: Absolut or other mid-range vodkas should work fine. No need to get too fancy unless you really want to.
1 oz Kahlua: Any coffee liqueur will do, but Kahlua is our go-to!
1 oz Heavy cream
Fill a rocks or Old Fashioned glass with ice
Pour 2 oz Vodka
Pour 1 oz Kahlua
Top with 1 oz Heavy cream
White Russian Variations
Strictly speaking the White Russian is a variation of the Black Russian. Its simplicity still lends itself well to different twists. Some more popular versions are listed below.
White Cuban: Uses light rum instead of vodka.
Dirty Russian: A White Russian with chocolate milk instead of heavy cream.
Black Russian: Same recipe but without heavy cream. Technically the Black Russian was here first, with the White Russian coming along later.
Mudslide: A variant with 1 oz vodka, 1 oz Kahlua, 1 oz Irish Cream, and 1½ oz cream.
Muddy Water: A variant with Irish Cream replacing heavy cream.
White Russian Substitutions
Though Kahlua is the most widely used, any coffee liqueur may be substituted, such as Tia Maria, Kamora, or Toussaint. If you’re feeling frisky, try using Patrón XO Cafe!
Using various flavored vodkas can add pleasant new flavor combinations. Vanilla vodka, raspberry vodka, even coffee flavored vodka may be used if you’re really nuts about coffee.
Replace heavy cream with half and half, milk, skim milk or soy milk for a lighter-calorie cocktail.
When to Serve a White Russian
The White Russian’s versatility allows it to be enjoyed at any occasion, but especially for the following.
A Big Lebowski viewing party: They’re more common than you might think.
For/with dessert: A sweet and pleasant way to end a good meal, especially when paired with a chocolatey or creamy dessert.
After dinner: As a satisfying way to ease into the rest of the evening. Plus, the caffeine in Kahlua provides a little extra stimulation to keep the conversation going.
Hosting a party: White Russians are crazy easy to make for any home party.
Christmastime: The comforting, restorative qualities of coffee in a chilled drink.
What to Serve with a White Russian
White Russians go with nearly any dessert. Listed below are a few suggested pairings. Just remember: if it goes well with coffee, it likely goes well with a White Russian.
Chocolate: This includes cakes, fudge, ice cream, and just about anything made with chocolate.
Cakes: Everything from birthday cake to donuts.
Tiramisu: A rich coffee dessert goes with a rich coffee cocktail. Duh.
Nuts: Anything with almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, you get the idea.
So long as White Russians are enjoyed responsibly, the Dude abides.