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 to make 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. Perhaps you 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: simply coffee liqueur and vodka. The Black Russian stems back to 1949, apparently 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 a White Russian began in 1955 in Oakland, California. It gives the drink a creamy mouthfeel and a richness that’s almost like latte (a spiked one, at that!).
The White Russian exploded in popularity due to the 1998 cult-classic movie The Big Lebowski. This incidentally is where we learned about this drink! 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 easy to make. It’s one of those cocktails you can simply mix together in a glass: no cocktail shaker or mixing glass required! The White Russian ingredients are:
- Coffee liqueur like Kahlua
- Cream or milk
The typical ratio for these ingredients are 2 parts vodka to 1 part coffee liqueur and 1 part cream. Mix the vodka and coffee liqueur, add ice, and pour in the cream.
How to make a White Russian…perfectly
Want to make this drink recipe to impress guests? We’ve got a few ways to serve it that make it look impressive. Here’s how to make a White Russian:
- Add 2 ounces vodka and 1 ounce coffee liqueur to a glass. Add ice, then 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!
- To step it up: 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 is not nearly as tasty as with cream.
- Pro: It 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!).
White Russian variations
There are several famous variations on the classic White Russian — or, predecessor drinks! 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
More about Kahlua
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 that’s made in Mexico: it’s made 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.
When to serve this White Russian recipe
The White Russian is sweet and creamy! It works before dinner, after dinner, or anytime in between. Serve it as a:
- Happy hour drink
- Afternoon cocktail
- Late night drinks drink
- Girls or guys night drink
- Cocktail hour drink
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
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
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.