A White Russian is a cocktail made with coffee liqueur, vodka, and cream, typically in an Old Fashioned glass. Today, the beverage is best known as The Dude’s favorite drink in The Big Lebowski, a 1998 cult hit.
History of the White Russian
The cocktail’s creation didn’t occur in one singular moment; it’s more of an evolution.
In the 1930s, vodka wasn’t as popular in the U.S. as it is today. Despite its reputation, the 1930 edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book came with four vodka concoctions, including:
- “The Russian”, which was a mix of vodka, gin, and crème de cacao.
- “The Barbara”, which consisted of the more familiar two parts vodka, one part cream, and one part crème de cacao.
After World War II, the Barbara was renamed “the Russian Bear”. Eventually, these two drinks merged into the same cocktail and evolved without the gin. It’s later called “the Russian”.
When Kahlúa first arrived in the U.S. in the 1940s, it quickly became popular as bartenders used it to replace other ingredients in existing cocktails. This included the Russian, which evolved into the White Russian we know today.
Here’s a fun fact: the Black Russian cocktail is essentially the same drink, but with the addition of cream or milk.