A cocktail can live for decades in obscurity until a single movie or TV show catapults it to vernacular culture. Like Cosmos in Sex in the City, the White Russian cocktail saw a renaissance thanks to its co-starring role in the film The Big Lebowski. A creamy cocktail with a high-energy kick, the White Russian presents itself as an anyone, any-time-of-day drink.
Except, if you’re following a vegan lifestyle, it’s out of reach! Here’s why, and how to fix that.
Wait… Kahlúa Isn’t Vegan?
There are only three ingredients in a traditional White Russian: vodka, Kahlúa, and cream. But, two of them are not vegan-friendly. Kahlúa, a rum-based coffee liqueur, contains sugar that has been processed with bone char from animals, and it’s therefore not suitable for vegans.
But vegan alternatives to Kahlúa exist!
- Tia Maria, another rum-based coffee liqueur, is vegan.
- So is St. George Spirits’ NOLA Coffee Liqueur.
- Make your own! My coffee liqueur is an easy recipe that only requires standing over a stove for a few minutes, then gently shaking the jar of steeping liqueur every few days for a few weeks.
Vegan Alternatives to Cream
Then there’s the cream. Although a wealth of vegan cream substitutes exist, not all of them work here. Some are too fatty, resulting in floaty bits in your drink, while others fail to provide the proper mouthfeel for the drink that dairy cream does. My solution is to use a 50/50 blend of light coconut milk and cashew milk. While the coconut gives a pleasant mouthfeel, the cashew milk adds more flavor. Here are a few tips and tricks for working with both.
- When choosing coconut milk, opt for a “light” variety, not regular or cream, as these two have a higher fat content that tends to glob together instead of dispersing evenly into the cocktail. Here, I use Whole Foods “light” canned coconut milk, and it mixes evenly every time. Pacific Food’s’s coconut milk (the kind in an aseptic package) mixes well also, but results in a darker drink as it has a thinner consistency.
- Make sure your coconut and cashew milk are at room temperature, as it makes them easier to mix. Want to make it now but it’s fridge cold? Microwave in short (5-10 second) bursts, stirring in between to gently warm. No microwave? A small saucepan can also warm up your milk on the stove.
- If you make your own coconut milk at home, try toasting the coconut first for a more robust base to the drink.
- Cashew milks can vary in thickness. Pacific Food’s cashew milk, similar to their coconut, is more “milk”-like and mixes evenly. I also like Forager brand cashew milk, as it already includes coconut cream mixed in—so I can use just the one bottle instead of two!
- Shaking is key to getting a uniformly even drink! Yes, “The Dude” pours all of his components into a glass and then gulps it down, but this laissez-faire attitude will not result in a properly made cocktail, vegan or otherwise! Please always shake a cocktail with cream!
The Best Vodka for White Russians
Lastly, there’s the vodka. First, save the top shelf vodka for your martini. The focus of a White Russian is on the coffee liqueur and creamy finish, and shouldn’t taste strongly of vodka anyway. Grab a moderately priced bottle—nothing fancy, but nothing that could result in a headache later on either. I enjoy Tito’s here, but if you want yours more on the Russian side, Russian Standard is a fine pick.
Ice in the Glass Is Optional
While a rocks glass with ice is traditionally how you see a White Russian served—which is 100% a by-product of building the drink in the glass—here, shaking makes the ice optional. However, as the drink borders on decadently creamy, you can try including the ice, which will cut through some of that heaviness as it melts. Alternatively, if you opt to forgo the ice, you can serve this “up” (strained without ice) in a coupe instead of a rocks glass. As I always suggest, try it both ways and see which is more to your liking.
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Vegan White Russian
Not all commercially produced coffee liqueurs are vegan. Kahlúa is made with sugar that’s processed with animal bone charcoal, and therefore some vegans choose not to drink it. Vegan alternatives include Tia Maria, St. George Spirits’ NOLA Coffee Liqueur, and our own homemade version.
Although this recipe is for a vegan version of the drink, most of these tips and tricks also apply to a standard White Russian, so feel free to use these ideas interchangeably.
1 3/4 ounces vodka
1 1/4 ounces vegan coffee liqueur (see recipe note)
1/2 ounce light coconut milk
1/2 ounce cashew milk
Combine the ingredients and shake:
In a shaker filled 2/3 of the way with ice, add the vodka, coffee liqueur, and coconut and cashew milks. Shake vigorously to combine, about 20 seconds.
Strain into an iced-filled rocks glass. Enjoy!
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 1g||2%|
|Saturated Fat 1g||5%|
|Total Carbohydrate 15g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 14g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||0%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|