The White Russian

The White Russian cocktail

In 1949, the inception of the White Russian occurred at the hands of Gustave Tops, a skilled Belgian mixologist, who also crafted its counterpart, the Black Russian—essentially a White Russian devoid of cream. This elegant blend was conceived at the illustrious Hotel Metropole in Brussels, as a tribute to Perle Mesta, the then-U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Mesta's prominence as a distinguished American socialite was well known,  Britannica notes. His diplomatic position also enabled Mesta to host opulent soirées attended by political luminaries and global statesmen.

So why call it the White “Russian” when it is clearly a drink invented for an American living in Belgium you ask? The simple answer lies in the White Russian’s primary ingredient — vodka. Known for producing some of the world’s most premium vodkas, Russia became a convenient choice while naming the cocktail. 

The 1950s and 60s saw a meteoric rise in the popularity of vodka in the United States, a trend propelled, in part, by the cultural impact of the James Bond film franchise. The suave, suited sleuths enhanced the charm of vodka-infused cocktails like Moscow Mules and Dirty Martinis (stirred, not shaken of course). The labels Black Russian and, subsequently, White Russian, were purely literal descriptions based on the ingredients (black liqueur, white cream), and not a nod to any particular place or person.

In the subsequent decade, the White Russian proliferated across bars and restaurants in the Western Hemisphere, eventually making its way into California's Oakland Tribune on November 21, 1965.

While it would be nice to claim that the White Russian's prominence soared from that juncture, the reality was starkly different. The truth was, that the humble cocktail grappled with a somewhat staid and outdated image until the cinematic release of the 1998 cult classic, The Big Lebowski. Much like the profound socio-economic impact that Carrie Bradshaw’s character (from Sex and the City) had with respect to the Cosmopolitan cocktail, The Big Lebowski bolstered White Russian sales across counters. 

The Big Lebowski’s release marked a renaissance for the White Russian. As Jeff Bridges' character, the Dude, adopted the cocktail as his exclusive and perpetual beverage of choice, so did the hundreds thronging to bars and restaurants. This phenomenon stands as one of the most notable successes of film-related cocktails within the realm of pop culture.

The global sensation of this drink extends to The Big Lebowski-themed bars and pop-up establishments, spanning locations from Texas to Iceland. Concurrently, several trends have played a role in rekindling affection for the cocktail, including the integration of bars in coffee shops, the innovative use of coffee as a mixer, and a revived interest in milk punches.

In its sweet resurgence, the White Russian has spawned numerous inventive variations. Examples include the White Mexican, incorporating horchata instead of cream; the Dirty Russian, which substitutes chocolate milk for cream; the Pumpkin Spice White Russian, adorned with a sweet pie-style rim and featuring pumpkin spice creamer; the White Belgian, opting for chocolate liqueur in lieu of coffee; the White Canadian, incorporating maple whiskey instead of vodka; and the White Cuban, where rum replaces vodka.

Ingredients

  • Vodka - 30ml
  • ingredients-0
  • Coffee liqueur - 30ml
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  • Cream - 30ml 
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Method

Add the vodka and coffee liqueur to a rocks glass filled with ice.

Top with the heavy cream and stir.

The White Russian

Mixologist: Shreya Paul

Ingredients

Method

Add the vodka and coffee liqueur to a rocks glass filled with ice.

Top with the heavy cream and stir.

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The White Russian