If you've seen the 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski, you know exactly what a White Russian is. For everyone else, a White Russian cocktail is made with vodka, cream, and Kahlúa (a sweet coffee-flavored liqueur made from Arabica coffee, sugar, vanilla, and rum), served over ice in a rocks glass.
You may be thinking, "Hmmm, sounds like a slightly-alcoholic iced vanilla latte!" and you wouldn't be far off. It's buzzy and boozy!
But as someone who doesn’t favor iced vanilla lattes (too sweet, not coffee-ey enough), but will happily sip on a White Russian any day of the week, I assure you there's room for everyone at the White Russian table.
What Does a White Russian Taste Like?
The ingredients in a White Russian are vodka, heavy cream or whole milk, and Kahlúa – three ingredients that, when combined together, create a milky, dessert-like drink that can really only be described as delicious.
Truly, in this case I find "delicious" to be the most apt descriptor. Think of the cream in this drink as a weighted blanket. It takes the edge off the vodka, forcing it to just chill out a little bit, and then snuggles in with the sugary rumness of the Kahlúa.
If you like sweet coffee-flavored foods and desserts (coffee-flavored ice cream, chocolate-covered coffee beans, Affogato), you will like a White Russian. If you like creamy alcoholic drinks like eggnog and Irish coffee, you will like a White Russian. If you like the idea of combining your morning cup of coffee with your afternoon happy hour, you will like a White Russian.
The Best Vodka for a White Russian
When it comes to the vodka for a White Russian, no need to get fancy. The vodka is a supporting player in this drink – you're going to taste more of the Kahlúa and cream – so something in the $15-$20 range is fine.
Suggestions and Substitutions for White Russians
It's hard to screw up a White Russian, but follow these tips for a sure-proof drink:
- If the cream is too much for you, swap it out for whole milk or half-and-half. Avoid low-fat milk, skim milk, and non-dairy milks with a low fat content, otherwise the drink will curdle.
- Need a reliable dairy-free alternative? Use coconut milk! Here's a recipe.
- I used a ratio of 2:1:1 vodka, cream, and Kahlua, which gives the drink a definite bite. (It mellows as the ice melts.) If you want more of that overall sweet coffee flavor, with the vodka just nibbling in the background, go for a 1:1:1 ratio.
More Creamy Cocktails for Sipping:
White Russian Cocktail
- 2 ounces vodka (I used Tito's)
- 1 ounce Kahlúa
- 1 ounce heavy cream
- One large ice cube, or 4-5 smaller ice cubes
Make the drink:
Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add the Kahlúa and vodka and stir for 30 seconds to chill. Float the cream over top and stir to mix. Enjoy!