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White Russian Cocktail

More than just a pop culture footnote, the White Russian is a beloved cocktail with a storied past. Discover the tales behind the White Russian and learn how to craft one at home in just three minutes.

Cream in a White Russian Glass

Drinking a classic White Russian cocktail isn’t something we do every day. After all, one of its ingredients is heavy cream. But, when we want to sip a cocktail that’s easy to make and tastes like dessert, it’s a go-to choice.

What Is A White Russian?

White Russian on a Black and Gold Plate
The White Russian is a global phenomena. Ironically, it’s neither white nor Russian.

The White Russian isn’t what it seems.

First of all, it’s not really white. The cocktail’s color is more of a milky brown similar to taupe. Second, and more confusing, it’s not really Russian. Yep, just like the Moscow Mule, the White Russian wasn’t invented in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Both vodka cocktails received their Russian monikers as a nod to vodka’s homeland.

Now that we’ve burst your bubble, we’ll share that a White Russian is a creamy, dreamy cocktail made with vodka, coffee liqueur, cream and ice. It’s also one of the easiest cocktails to craft at home. A spoon is the only required tool.

History Of The White Russian

White Russian against a Red Background
White Russians are surprisingly easy to craft at home. They’re even easier to drink at home.

The White Russian is a post-prohibition cocktail with two origin stories.

The first story dates back to 1949 when a Belgian bartender created the Black Russian, basically a White Russian without cream, at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels. It was a slippery slope before cream was added to create a White Russian. Both drinks later appeared in The Diner’s Club Drink Book published in 1961.

The second and more interesting story is more of a rebirth. While the White Russian wasn’t gone, the sweet cocktail didn’t achieve global popularity until The big Lebowski was released in 1998. The movie’s main character nicknamed The Dude drank White Russians throughout the movie. In fact, it’s fair to say that the White Russian, or as he called it the “Caucasian,” had a co-starring role in the classic cult film.

The Dude made drinking White Russians cool. Who are we not to abide? The Dude also used half & half but we’ll get to that later.

Fun Fact
Although the Dude referred to his White Russians as Caucasians, we don’t recommend ordering a Caucasian at your local bar or pub.

Ingredients

White Russian Ingredients
Our White Russian recipe only has four ingredients – vodka, coffee liqueur, cream and ice. The ice isn’t pictured here since it was in the freezer.

You might think that the White Russian cocktail has a laundry list of ingredients based on it decadent flavor profile. You would be wrong. These four ingredients are the only ingredients you need to craft a White Russian at home:

  • Vodka
  • Coffee Liqueur
  • Cream
  • Ice Cubes

You may be wondering if cream is really necessary. We wondered the same thing ourselves. As an experiment, we crafted two White Russians – one with European full fat milk (which is similar to half & half) and one with cream – and then taste tested them at the same time.

We agreed that the cocktail with cream tasted markedly better. However, if you’re watching your calories or don’t have cream on hand, we say go for it and use milk or half & half instead. Be aware that your White Russian will still taste good but will be less creamy.

Bottles of Kahlua and Stolichnaya
We used these bottles of Kahlúa coffee liqueur and Stolichnaya vodka to craft our White Russian recipe. They’re the recipe’s only required liquors.

We used Stolichnaya vodka in our recipe. As a disclosure, Stoli is currently produced in Latvia which was formerly part of the Soviet Union. However, it is no longer part of the Russian empire.

Discover our favorite vodka cocktails.

We like to use Kahlúa in this and other cocktail recipes. Not only did we drink the Mexican coffee liqueur in Philadelphia, but it’s also readily accessible in Lisbon where we currently live. You can use other coffee liqueurs like Jamaica’s Tia Maris instead.

How To Craft A White Russian

White Russian next to Ingredients
It will take you longer to read this article than it will take you to craft a White Russian cocktail at home.

Once you make one White Russian cocktail, it likely won’t be your last. The first step is to add ice to a lowball glass. We like to use ice tongs but you can use a spoon or even your hands.

Dropping an Ice Cube in a Glass
Any ice will suffice in this White Russian recipe. We used ice from our freezer’s ice maker to craft our cocktail.

The second step is to measure the three liquid ingredients. We like to use a Japanese jigger to insure accurate measurements and clean pours.

Buy a Japanese jigger from Amazon if you need a jigger or want an inexpensive upgrade.

Pouring Vodka in a Japanese Jigger
Carefully measuring the ingredients is key when crafting tasty White Russian cocktails at home.

The third step is to pour the vodka and coffee liqueur directly into the lowball glass. There’s no need for a mixing glass or shaker in this recipe!

Pouring Kahlua in a Rocks Glass w Ice
Our anticipation grew as we poured Kahlúa into our glass.

The fourth step is to pour the cream into the lowball glass. While you can pour the cream directly into the glass, we like to pour it onto the back side of a bar spoon to create a swirl design.

This step seems complicated but is actually incredibly easy to do. Watch this video if you want to see it in action.

Pouring Cream over a spoon for a White Russian
How you pour the cream impacts the appearance but not the flavor. We poured our cream onto the back of a bar spoon to create a swirling effect.

The final step is to stir the cocktail.

Cream Mixed into a White Russian
Though we were sad to stir our White Russian and lose its swirl design, we were happy to drink the well-mixed drink that tasted great from the first sip to the last.

Skipping the final step will result in a swirly White Russian which looks cool; however, the White Russian tastes best when it’s mixed thoroughly.

Variations

Ice Cubes in a Rocks Glass
We like crafting traditional White Russians but you may prefer a different variation.

Once you’ve mastered our White Russian recipe, which should only take one or two attempts, you can get creative with cream substitutes and other liquors. We recommend starting your experimentation with the following White Russian alternatives:

  • Omit the cream to craft a Black Russian cocktail.
  • Omit the cream and add fizzy water to craft a Mind Eraser cocktail.
  • Add Irish cream liqueur to craft a Mudslide cocktail.
  • Replace the cream with chocolate milk to craft a Dirty Russian cocktail.
  • Replace the cream with goat’s milk to craft a White Canadian cocktail.
  • Replace the vodka with rum to craft a White Cuban cocktail.
  • Replace the cream with horchata to craft a White Mexican cocktail.

Discover 10 essential bar tools for the home mixologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a White Russian cocktail?

A White Russian is a creamy cocktail made with vodka, coffee liqueur, cream and ice.

Why is it called a White Russian?

The White Russian is essentially a Black Russian with cream. The addition of cream makes the drink white-ish and inspired its name.

What movie made the White Russian famous?

The Big Lebowski immortalized the White Russian and gave it a nickname, the Caucasian.

What are the ingredients in a White Russian?

Vodka, Coffee Liqueur, Cream and Ice

What’s the best vodka for a White Russian?

Any vodka will work in the White Russian recipe.

Is the White Russian shaken or stirred?

The White Russian is stirred, not shaken.

What’s the best glass for a White Russian?

We like to serve this cocktail in a lowball glass and you should do the same.

Did you craft this cocktail? If so, please rate the recipe below.

Cream in a White Russian Glass
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5 from 2 votes

White Russian Recipe

Rich and lush, the White Russian is super easy to craft with three ingredients (plus ice). All you need to do is pour, measure and stir.
Prep Time3 minutes
Total Time3 minutes
Course: Drink
Cuisine: Cocktail
Servings: 1
Calories: 325kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1 ounce coffee liqueur
  • 1 ounce heavy cream
  • ice cubes

Instructions

  • Fill lowball glass with ice 3/4 to the top.
  • Add vodka, coffee liqueur and cream.
  • Gently stir.

Notes

  • Use room temperature cream to avoid clotting.
  • Reduce the drink’s calories by using milk or half & half instead of cream.

Estimated Nutrition

Calories: 325kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 32mg | Sodium: 10mg | Potassium: 28mg | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin A: 417IU | Vitamin C: 0.2mg | Calcium: 19mg | Iron: 0.04mg
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Thirsty For More Vodka Cocktails?

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About The Authors

About The Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers their unique taste of the world.

Disclosures

Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

Funding
We purchased the ingredients and tools used to craft this cocktail.

Original Publication Date: August 7, 2021

Recipe Rating




Edward Gondzi

Wednesday 22nd of November 2023

My wife likes my White Russian I use two rounded scoops of a good French Vanilla ice cream 👍

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Wednesday 22nd of November 2023

Sounds delicious!

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