Here’s how to make a White Russian! This classic cocktail starring vodka and Kahlua hits the spot anytime and in any season. Here’s our White Russian recipe, ingredients, and the history of the drink.
Here’s a drink that takes just 2 minutes and hits the spot in any season: the White Russian! This cocktail mixes vodka with coffee liqueur and cream in a decadently creamy, searingly sweet beverage. You may know it from the 1990’s movie The Big Lebowski, but this drink has been around since the 1950’s. It’s a total treat, and couldn’t be easier to make! Here’s what you need to know to make the best White Russian around.
What is a White Russian?
The White Russian is a cocktail made with vodka, heavy cream, and coffee liqueur. It’s a variation on the Black Russian, which mixes coffee liqueur and vodka. The Black Russian cocktail stems back to 1949, when it was created for the American ambassador to Luxembourg in a hotel bar in Brussels (here’s more about that). So the drink is not Russian in origin: it was simply named for the vodka!
Adding cream to make the White Russian cocktail began in 1955 in Oakland, California. It gives the drink a creamy mouthfeel and a richness that’s almost like latte. The White Russian exploded in popularity due to the 1998 cult-classic movie The Big Lebowski. After seeing the main character, “the Dude,” down drink after drink, you’ve got to try it for yourself.
White Russian ingredients
This White Russian recipe is a three ingredient drink that’s beyond simple to make. It’s one of those cocktails you can build in the glass: no cocktail shaker or mixing glass required! The White Russian ingredients are:
- 2 ounces vodka
- 1 ounce coffee liqueur like Kahlua
- 1 ounce heavy cream or milk
How to make a White Russian
Want to mix up this drink recipe to impress guests? Here’s how to make a White Russian:
- Add the vodka and and coffee liqueur to a glass. Fill the glass the ice.
- Pour in 1 ounce of heavy cream.
- Stir gently to get the swirl effect. Stir a White Russian vigorously and it’s a solidly beige drink. But want to get the swirl effect? Stir it gently just a few times, and the cream will swirl into the vodka and Kahlua in a beautiful pattern. It looks much more impressive!
- Step it up and use clear ice! Clear ice is artisanal ice that’s crystal clear, instead of cloudy like normal ice. Cut it into large, organic shapes and it looks like something you’d find at an upscale bar! It’s easy to make: all you need is 24 hour and a small cooler. Go to How to Make Clear Ice.
Using milk vs cream
Want to make a lighter version of this White Russian recipe? Use 2% milk or whole milk. Here are the pros and cons to using milk in this classic drink recipe:
- Con: Milk makes a more watery, less nuanced drink than with cream.
- Pro: Milk makes this cocktail easier to drink since it’s not as rich and reduces the calories. You also might have milk on hand more regularly than cream (it’s true for us!).
About Kahlua and coffee liqueur
Kahlua carries most of the magic in this White Russian. But what actually is it? Here’s what to know about this coffee liqueur and other types you can use:
- Kahlua is a coffee liqueur made in Mexico with rum, sugar and coffee. It does have some caffeine, but only about 25% as much as the same volume of coffee.
- How much does Kahlua cost? It costs about $20 per bottle.
- What to use instead of Kahlua? Try other types of coffee liqueur, like Tia Maria or Sheridan’s.
- What other cocktails use Kahlua? Use it to make other Kahlua drinks like a Black Russian, Mudslide, Bushwacker, or an Espresso Martini.
Want more coffee cocktails? Go to Top Coffee Cocktails Worth Trying.
Best vodka for a White Russian
A rule of thumb for vodka in a White Russian? Use a mid-priced vodka: avoid very inexpensive or high-end vodka. Why? The Kahlua and cream are very strong and easily overpower a great vodka. But you don’t want to go too bottom shelf: low quality vodka can ruin the drink. Avoid vodka that is very cheap ($10 to $15 per 750 ml bottle range). Brands like Tito’s and Smirnoff work well here, as well as other mid range brands like Grey Goose.
White Russian variations
The White Russian is sweet and creamy! It works before dinner, after dinner, or anytime in between. There are several famous variations on the classic White Russian. Here are all the drinks in the family:
- Black Russian is the original, a classic cocktail invented in 1949 with coffee liqueur and vodka
- Mind Eraser is a layered Black Russian, topped with bubbles!
- Colorado Bulldog is a White Russian with a splash of cola
Here’s how to make a White Russian! This classic cocktail recipe starring vodka and Kahlua hits the spot anytime and in any season.
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) vodka
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Kahlua (or other coffee liqueur)
- 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) heavy cream
- Ice, for serving (try clear ice)
- Add the vodka and Kahlua to a low ball glass. Fill it with ice.
- Top with the cream. Stir until cold (or stir just a bit to get the swirl effect).
- Category: Cocktails
- Method: Stirred
- Cuisine: American
- Diet: Vegetarian
Keywords: White Russian, How to make a White Russian
More vodka cocktails
The White Russian is a well-known vodka cocktail, one of many tasty drinks with this spirit! Here are a few more vodka cocktails to add to your collection:
- Classic Moscow Mule The refreshing, bubbly classic! Copper mugs, ginger beer, and lime.
- Vodka Tonic or Vodka Soda Two of the easiest mixed drinks! These two-ingredient cocktails are bubbly, citrusy, and refreshing.
- Cosmopolitan This vibrant pink drink is perfect for celebrations of all kinds: here’s our new and improved version.
- Classic Bloody Mary The store-bought version can’t hold a candle to this brilliantly flavored homemade mix.
- Vodka Cranberry The easiest cocktail: just vodka and cranberry juice!
- Transfusion Mix grape juice, lime and ginger ale for a tasty highball.
Last updated: March 2021