When someone mentions a White Russian, the chances are that cult Coen brothers’ film The Big Lebowski springs instantly to mind. Other than James Bond’s Martini , arguably no other drink is as synonymous with a film character as the White Russian and The Dude.
The Jeff Bridges slacker character makes his way through the black comedy either mixing or requesting them. Slinging vodka, Kahlua and milk into a glass, he always has one in hand – even managing to avoid spilling his drink as he is dumped unceremoniously into the back of a limo. It’s the perfect choice of drink for this iconic personality.
A dreamy, creamy concoction of a cocktail, the White Russian is a beguiling mix of vodka and coffee liqueur with milk and/or cream. Served on the rocks, it has arguably been knocked off the coffee cocktail pedestal by the Espresso Martini and the Irish Coffee, but I’m here to make the case for its reinstatement.
While the other two are worthy cocktails in their own right, the Espresso Martini with its shot of espresso and coffee liqueur packs a huge caffeine punch that can keep you awake late into the night. The Irish Coffee, while delicious, is hot, so only really suited to after dinner drinking or cold weather.
The White Russian, on the other hand, could arguably be drunk around the clock – it has milk or cream in it! It only has a gentle coffee buzz. It’s easygoing. Just like The Dude.
So what sort of vodkas should you consider when mixing a White Russian? Creamy or cereal-forward spirits are the name of the game. Consequently, potato and barley vodkas work particularly well. Personally, I would avoid 100% rye-based vodkas, because the spicy bite that rye brings to the table is the antithesis of the cool, smooth, easy-drinking nature of this cocktail.
How to make a White Russian
As for the recipe, mix two parts vodka to one part Kahlua – or the coffee liqueur of your choice – and one part single cream. Mix the vodka and Kahlua over ice in a rocks glass, then float the cream on top. Enjoy while wearing a dressing gown and sunglasses, just like The Dude.
Best vodkas for a White Russian
Originally created in 1879 by Lars Olsson Smith, this Swedish brand was reintroduced on its centenary in its current iconic bottle, catapulting the brand to global recognition. Made in Åhus with locally grown winter wheat, Absolut is a smooth vodka with cereal and cream soda notes, making it perfect for a White Russian. Alcohol 40%
Arbikie Haar Vodka
Situated in the Scottish Highlands, on the farm that the Stirling family has worked on since the 17th century, Arbikie distillery is a field-to-bottle operation. Haar is a wheat vodka named after a coastal fog that often blankets the farm, and it boasts a sweet palate of custard tart, warm meringue, earthy coffee and butter. Alc 43%
Black Cow Vodka
A vodka made from milk? Indeed. Black Cow is a zero-waste product: it’s made from milk of cows that graze by the distillery in south-west Dorset, with the curds of this milk being used to make cheese, and the whey used to make the vodka. The result is a beguiling palate of vanilla pod, desiccated coconut, bright lemon zest, anise and sweet liquorice root. Alc 40%
Named after the family that created this brand, Chase distillery in Herefordshire is now owned by Diageo. The Chase family originally made their name creating Tyrell’s crisps, using the potatoes they farmed. It makes sense, then, that they then went on to produce potato vodkas, using King Edward, Lady Rosetta and Lady Claire varieties. A velvety vodka with accents of sweet liquorice, earthy terracotta and a smattering of black pepper. Alc 40%
Konik’s Tail Vodka
Distilled from a mixture of spelt, rye and winter wheat, Konik’s Tail is a complex, rich Polish vodka. A subtle nose of vanilla, marshmallow and lemon verbena and a soft palate with meringue sweetness, before a slight rye spice, orange zest and raspberry make an appearance. This is a decadent option for making a White Russian, but its complexity means it makes a mean Martini and can be enjoyed neat too. Alc 40%
Hailing from Iceland, this wheat and barley vodka is fittingly filtered through lava rock, made with glacial spring water and produced using geothermal energy. In fact, the name ‘Reyka’ is an old Icelandic word for steam. Made in small batches, this is a very soft, creamy spirit, with hints of anise, vanilla and lemon zest. Alc 40%
Snow Leopard Vodka
A vodka with a charitable streak, Snow Leopard donates 15% of its profits to the preservation of these stunning animals. Made in Poland using spelt, it is produced in small batches, distilled six times and twice filtered through charcoal. The result is a nutty, mineral vodka, with top notes of spring blossom and grass. Alc 40%
X Muse Vodka
Made at the Bonnington Estate near Edinburgh, X Muse’s spiritual home is a sculpture park called Jupiter Artland. This isn’t a case of style over substance, however. It’s made using two heritage varieties of barley that are distilled separately and blended, while the water used comes from an ancient aquifer on the estate. It’s a vodka with an elegant body, and flavours of sweet cream, Granny Smith apples, pears, melted butter, drying oatcakes and a mineral undertone. Alc 40%