White Russian cocktail

Words by Simon Difford

One of the best-known cocktails of the modern era the White Russian presents vodka and coffee liqueur served on the rocks, sipped through a silky layer of cream or milk.

A White Russian can be as simple as equal measures vodka, coffee liqueur and fresh cream poured over ice. However, it looks better if you stir at least the first two ingredients and then layer cream on the surface of the drink (as per our White Russian recipe). Or some prefer to shake all three ingredients to make a properly integrated cocktail. While not essential we like to grate some nutmeg over the surface of the drink.

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Named due to its appearance and vodka base - Smirnoff and Stolichnaya were the main vodka brands at the time, hence vodka was associated with Russia. The White Russian is obviously related to the Black Russian whose origins are thought to date from 1949. Who first came up with this creamy interpretation and when is unknown.

Mention of the White Russian cocktail in print first appeared in an advertisement for a now long-defunct coffee liqueur called 'Coffee Southern' which was run in the Boston Globe on 21st March 1965, then in California's Oakland Tribune on 21 November 1965. Along with the White Russian, the "Try delicious Coffee Sothern" advert also gives the recipes for 'Coffee and Cointreau', 'Southern Grasshopper' and 'Java Sundae' using the liqueur.

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The White Russian strutted its way through the 70s disco era before its popularity waned in the 1980s, only to be rescued and made more popular than ever after being the libation of choice of The Dude in the cult 1998 movie The Big Lebowski. Played by Jeff Bridges, throughout this comedy caper film, Jeffrey 'The Dude' Lebowski has little interest or passion for anything other than bowling and drinking White Russians which he calls a "Caucasian". During the duration of the film, The Dude consumes seven of the creamy cocktails.

White Russian variations

Anna Kournikova - named after the blond Russian tennis player and made with skimmed/low-fat milk.
Blind Russian - with Baileys Irish Cream in place of cream. The 'blind' references the drink being made from all alcoholic ingredients.
Blonde Russian - an alternative, slightly more p.c. name for the above
Colorado Russian - equal parts cream and cola.
Flat White Martini - Equal parts Irish cream, vodka and espresso shaken and served 'up'.
White Belgian - made with chocolate liqueur instead of coffee liqueur.
White Canadian - made with goat's milk.
White Cuban - based on rum instead of vodka.
Dirty Russian - made with chocolate flavoured milk.

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