History of The White Russian Cocktail

The White Russian is arguably one of the most famous cocktail recipes in the world, even among people that don't consider themselves to be cocktail enthusiasts. Virtually everyone has at least heard of the vodka-based concoction, from people that are working in the liquor distribution industry all the way down to a college fraternity's newest inductee.
The drink has evolved quite a bit since the term "White Russian" was first coined in 1965, and there are a few unique ways to mix it. In each case, it's possible to include slightly different ingredients without compromising the identity of the cocktail. As such, the flavour and strength of the beverage may vary slightly, depending on where the drink is being ordered from.

The White Russian was originally a variation on another vodka drink that first became known in the late 1940's as the Black Russian. It's quick rise in popularity was most likely a combination of its potency and ease of creation, along with its potential for a very smooth flavour whenever quality vodka was used. Very little bar experience was needed to make this drink since it only required a couple of ingredients.

The Black Russian is simply clear vodka mixed in approximately a 3-to-1 ratio with a coffee liqueur of choice, such as Kahlua. It is typically served on the rocks in a highball, or in some other traditional drinking glass of medium height with a thick, heavy base. The name is thought to refer merely to the fact that vodka is the primary component, and isn't meant to imply that Russian was the original country of origin for the cocktail.

It's the introduction of cream into the mix that changes its colour, producing the official White Russian cocktail. In the absence of true cream, it's acceptable to substitute something more common, such as milk. The proportion of cream should be about the same as the volume of coffee liqueur, and should have a sweetening effect on the drink.

The White Russian has always been a popular drink order among people that may be somewhat sensitive to the taste of strong liquor. The drink should resemble an enhanced Irish coffee in flavour, and should have a colour that is just mildly lighter than caramel. It is meant to be sipped slowly, and savoured for the simple and elegant tavern staple that it is.

More to explore

Bartender's top tip

Choose the perfect glass. The shape, size and design of a glass adds to the experience of the curated cocktail. Invest in a few key pieces of glassware, with a design that matches your style.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get tips straight into your inbox.