Classic White Russian

A creamy coffee cocktail, the White Russian is a classic cocktail worth knowing. Made with vodka, coffee liqueur and cream, this after-dinner drink packs a serious punch. Learn its history, how to make it and how to customize it.

A rocks glass with heavy cream swirling into coffee liqueur and vodka.

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Classic White Russian recipe

After-dinner drinks are seriously underrated. From the elegant Brandy Alexander to a warm Irish Coffee, wouldn’t it be great if more restaurants offered dessert cocktails?

One of the best out there is the White Russian. It’s a boozy, creamy coffee-flavored cocktail. It’s a great drink for happy hour or to enjoy as a nightcap.

Most people know it from its co-starring role in the movie The Big Lebowski, in which Jeff Bridges’ character “The Dude” downs White Russians throughout the film.

Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Creamy with the strong flavors of coffee, the White Russian is a classic cocktail everyone should know.
  • Made with three simple ingredients, it’s an easy recipe for beginner home mixologists.
  • It’s easy to customize with different types of alcohol, flavored syrups and infused milk. You can even make it non-alcoholic!

So what is it and how do you make this cocktail? Let’s dive right in!

Two Classic White Russians next to a

What is a White Russian?

The classic White Russian cocktail is made with coffee liqueur, vodka and heavy cream. Creamy and sweet, it can pack quite a punch thanks to the two types of booze.

The White Russian is not actually from Russia. Like the Moscow Mule, which is also vodka-based, the moniker simply comes from the fact that it’s made with vodka. However, vodka is made in many countries these days.

In fact, the Black Russian — the White Russian’s predecessor — was created in the 1940s by a Belgian bartender named Gustave Tops the Hotel Metropole in Brussels. He designed it in honor of the American ambassador to Luxembourg, Perle Mesta.

History of the White Russian

The history of this classic drink doesn’t go back very far. In the 1930s, a recipe for “The Russian” was made with equal parts gin, vodka and crème de cacao. According to Liquor.com, a variation called for the addition of dairy.

Then the 1961 edition of the “Diner’s Club Drink Book” included a recipe for the Black Russian, which is made with vodka and coffee liqueur. A footnote suggested adding cream to the drink would create a variation called the White Russian.

The drink faded in and out of popularity after that, gaining popularity again in the 1990s thanks to the movie The Big Lebowski. The White Russian is the drink of choice of the main character, The Dude, which helped to spark interest in this creamy cocktail.

A White Russian cocktail on a stack of grey marble coasters.

Ingredients: What’s in a White Russian?

A White Russian contains just three simple ingredients: vodka, coffee liqueur and heavy cream. Oh, and ice! Don’t forget the ice.

However, it has many customizations, such as mixing in flavored vodka, other sweet liqueurs, simple syrups and flavored milk. It can even be made non-alcoholic!

We’ll get more into those in the section below, called Variations and Substitutions, but for now here’s what you need to make a basic White Russian.

Vodka

Use the best vodka you can afford! My go-to brands right now are Tito’s, Deep Eddy, Reyka and Absolut.

A cheap vodka will taste cheap and stand out in your drink — and not in a great way — so stick to the $15-20 range if you can!

If you’d like to know more about vodka, dive into my Vodka 101 crash course.

Coffee Liqueur

The strong coffee flavor of the White Russian is all thanks to the coffee liqueur. Kahlua and Tia Maria are two of the most well-known brands for coffee liqueur out there.

If you’re up for it, making homemade coffee liqueur is worth it. You can make it with your favorite coffee beans and vodka. It makes a great gift for the White Russian lover in your life!

Cream

Fresh cream is the classic choice for this cocktail, but you can choose what you like. I typically use half-and-half but you can go thicker or thinner if you like.

Also called whipping cream, heavy cream would give your White Russian a thick texture, whereas whole milk or even 2% milk would make it a bit thinner. I wouldn’t go thinner than that — skim milk would be too thin.

Feel free to choose non-dairy milk or unsweetened non-dairy creamers such as oat milk, soy milk or almond milk.

Ice

Ice cubes are an underrated yet important cocktail ingredient. For the White Russian, cubed ice works best.

You’ll need to add it to your cocktail shaker (if you’re using it) as well as your glass, which will chill the cocktail as you shake it.

A hand using a gold spoon to stir a White Russian.

How to make a White Russian (Two Ways)

You can put together this classic drink in just a few easy steps, but there are two ways you can mix it up: shaking or building.

Shaken

Shaking your White Russian is the best way to mix up your cocktail because it makes your cocktail thick, creamy and frothy as the cream gets slightly whipped.

  1. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine all your ingredients.
  2. Give it a really good shake.
  3. Pour it into a rocks glass (affiliate link) filled with ice.

Built

The other way is to “build” your cocktail, by pouring each ingredient into the glass. This is great if you don’t have a cocktail shaker or simply don’t feel like getting it out. (To be honest, this is what I do 90% of the time!)

  1. Into a rocks glass (affiliate link) filled with ice, pour in the vodka and coffee liqueur.
  2. Stir them together.
  3. Then, top it with cream.

Either way will work perfectly and just comes down to your preference.

A top-down view of a White Russian drink on a marble background.

Variations and substitutions

Try one of these variations of this drink recipe instead of the classic

  • Too boozy? Add an extra splash or two of cream and stir it in to help dilute the booze.
  • Dairy-free version: Use your favorite non-dairy substitute. I like almond milk or lactose-free milk.
  • Frozen White Russian: Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top instead of mixing the drink with ice. Or throw it in the blender for adult milkshakes!
  • Black Russian: This version doesn’t include any cream. It’s just coffee liqueur and vodka.
  • Baileys White Russian: Sweet and creamy Irish cream liqueur makes for a tasty (and boozy) addition to the White Russian. Try this version with other cream liqueurs like Amarula, Rumchata and Cape Velvet Cream.
  • Virgin White Russian: For a non-alcoholic version, use zero-proof coffee liqueur, such as Lyre’s Coffee Originale, and zero-proof vodka, such as Strykk Not Vodka.

There are also some variations from other countries, including the White Canadian, which is made with (the much less appealing) goat milk, and the White Mexican, which uses horchata instead of cream.

A rocks glass containing a creamy cocktail over ice with coffee beans on top.

How to make your own White Russian combination

You can dress up this classic recipe by switching up one of the main ingredients or try one of the twists on the White Russian drink below.

  • Add simple syrup. Add a little extra flavor by mixing in some flavored simple syrup. Try vanilla syrup, cinnamon syrup or caramel syrup.
  • Use flavored vodka. A flavored vodka, like peppermint vodka, can easily transform your cocktail.
  • Infuse the cream. Let the cream or half-and-half steep with a new flavor, such as graham crackers or Oreos. This s’mores version uses graham-cracker-infused cream and marshmallow vodka.
  • Use chocolate milk. If you love chocolate, adding a little bit of chocolate syrup will totally level up this drink.

More White Russian recipes

A rocks glass with heavy cream swirling into coffee liqueur and vodka.

Classic White Russian Cocktail

Yield: 1 cocktail
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes

The White Russian is a classic cocktail made with just three ingredients. Enjoy it after dinner or as a nightcap (or while you watch The Big Lebowski!)

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1 ounce coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua
  • 1 ounce heavy cream or half-and-half

Instructions

Shaken White Russian

  1. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine vodka, coffee liqueur and heavy cream. Shake well to thicken the cream.
  2. Pour into a rocks glass filled with ice.

Built White Russian

  1. Into a rocks glass filled with ice, pour in the vodka and coffee liqueur. Stir together.
  2. Stir in heavy cream.

Notes

Too boozy? Add another splash of cream and stir it in.

Dairy-free version: Use your favorite non-dairy substitute. I like almond milk or lactose-free milk.

Black Russian: This version doesn’t include any cream. It’s just coffee liqueur and vodka.

Frozen White Russian: Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top instead of mixing the drink with ice.

Non-alcoholic White Russian: For a non-alcoholic version, use zero-proof coffee liqueur, such as Lyre’s Coffee Originale, and zero-proof vodka, such as Strykk Not Vodka.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1 cocktail
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 337Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 34mgSodium: 11mgCarbohydrates: 12gFiber: 0gSugar: 12gProtein: 1g

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