The History of the White Russian Cocktail + Recipe

You think there are finer drinks than the White Russian? Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

For many, the White Russian wears the crown of quaffable creature comforts; it is the pinnacle of potable pleasures, the despot of drinkable desserts. Its milky-white innards fill your mouth with sweet coffee liqueur subdued by creamy milk. And while those slick ice cubes gently dilute it, it only grows cooler and more refreshing.

Here’s where this dubiously titled drink came from:

Table of Contents

The Origins of the White Russian

It’s not hard to see where certain cocktail names came from — the Daiquiri and Cosmopolitan come to mind — but the White Russian isn’t exactly what you’d expect.

The White Russian is, for starters, patently not Russian. Vodka is a primary ingredient, to be sure, but the drink was invented in Belgium. In fact, it came about in 1949 in Brussels, Belgium, when a bartender with the spectacular name of Gustave Tops created it.

Tops crafted two twin cocktails: the White Russian and the Black Russian, which was simply the White Russian without any cream. The magic happened at Brussels’ Hotel Metropole to honor the US ambassador to Luxembourg, Perle Mesta.

The reason Tops called these drinks “Russians” is simply because they contained vodka. The White Russian made its way through the western hemisphere through the ’50s and ’60s, gaining a foothold in the US market on November 21, 1965. On that date, the Oakland Tribune published an official recipe for the White Russian: 1 oz. Southern ( a popular type of coffee liqueur at the time), 1 oz. vodka, 1 oz. cream.

For those of us trying not to develop more real estate in Lovehandle Land, it’s possible to sub out the cream for whole milk, soy creamer, or nut milk alternatives. Heck, it’s a cocktail — you can sub out anything for anything.

The White Russian’s Rise to Respectability

It wasn’t always easy being a White Russian. It didn’t exactly make the cut for the Cool Kids’ Club when it reached American shores.

The likely culprit for this is the milk. Something about adding milk to a cocktail seemed to separate it from other, more “sophisticated” cocktails like the martini and Manhattan.

If you’re wondering why that is, ask yourself how you’d react if a friend showed up at your house, and when you asked if they’d like anything to drink, they responded with, “Could I have a glass of milk?”

Yeah, it’s a stigma. And it’s probably why most milk-centered cocktails still don’t make the top 10 list.

There’s also the fact that the White Russian is a sugar coma waiting to happen. It’s got 33 grams of sugar in it, as well as 18 grams of saturated fat. And let’s not even talk about the calories (spoiler alert: 590).

And yet.

Once you drink one, you can’t undrink or unthink it. It’s just so damned good. Plus, when the Coen brothers’ cult classic The Big Lebowski came out in 1998, the White Russian suddenly skyrocketed to rock star status. Much like Wayne’s World did to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Lebowski saved the White Russian from a slow decline into obscurity.

Pop Quiz: How many White Russians does The Dude consume over the film’s 1 hour and 57 minutes?

The drink is so well-established today that you can even find spin-offs of it throughout the world. Many times it’s just swapping out spirits. Take the White Canadian (sub out the cream for goat’s milk), the White Belgian (chocolate liqueur instead of coffee liqueur), and the White Cuban (replace the vodka with rum, of course).

white russian cocktail recipe details

How to Make the Perfect White Russian Cocktail Drink

One of the most decadent drink recipes around, the White Russian is pure liquid comfort food. It just happens to be about 48-proof comfort food.

Here’s what you need for your White Russian cocktail recipe:

  • Prep Time 4 Minutes
  • Cook Time 1 Minutes
  • Total Time 5 Minutes
  • Serves 1 People
  • Calories 590 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. vodka
  • 2 oz. Kahlua
  • 2 oz. soy creamer (for a “Light” Russian) or whole milk (for the real deal)
  • Sugar-free caramel syrup

Instructions

  1. Take the rim of your glass and dip it in sugar-free caramel syrup.
  2. Next, fill the glass with large ice cubes.
  3. Add the vodka, Kahlua, and 2 oz. of either soy creamer or whole milk to the glass.
  4. Stir them together to a milky white consistency and serve.
  5. Наслаждайтесь! (Enjoy!)

Notes

If you’re only worried about aesthetics (at step 1), this makes the drink a whole lot sexier-looking — if you’re worried about flavor, then you can imagine how some caramel adds to the delights!
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Brooklyn native, accent-having, travel lover, wordsmith and bud enthusiast. Versed from the streets of NYC, mixed with some world influence, writer/editor and medical user extraordinaire, JJ is here to tell you like it is and guide you to the finest. Brooklyn's favorite feminine stoner, your neighborhood contributor, wrapping leaves like a bandage and bringing you along for the ride.

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