When you’re looking for a cocktail that coats the insides with seasonal goodness, don’t overlook the unassuming White Russian.
There’s no doubt that cocktails as seasonal. We drink margaritas when we’re baking away on the beach, and hot toddys when we’re looking to be hugged with warmth from the inside out. So if you’re looking for a cocktail that not only suits the season we’re in (read: winter lite) but one that happily flies in the face of contemporary cocktail mantras, you can’t go past the White Russian.
A combination of cream (or more often than not milk), vodka, and coffee liqueur that has nothing more to do with the Motherland than the addition of its base spirit, the White Russian was credited to Belgian barkeep Gustave Tops back in 1949 (he also created the Black Russian, a blend of coffee liqueur and vodka – add coke and you have a Long Black Russian, although it might be safer to ask for a Black Russian with Coke) and saw a surge in popularity with the 1998 release of The Big Lebowski, in which ‘The Dude’ is rarely seen without the creamy concoction in hand.
So famous is this dessert-in-a-glass that it gave rise to a host of variations ranging from the Blind Russian, in which milk is replaced with Irish cream like Baileys; the White Cuban, with rum instead of vodka, the curious Dirty Russian, made with chocolate camel’s milk and popular in Central Asia; and the Anna Kournikova, made with, you guessed it, skim milk.
Sure, in terms of where cocktails are going – low or no ABV, with less sugar and more natural ingredients – the White Russian is an echo of mixology’s decadent past and is usually archived with the likes of the Japanese Slipper, the Blow Job, and the Singapore Sling. However, there’s one time of year when you can probably rationalise ordering (or making) a White Russian and that’s now, at the tail end of winter.
If you’re easing your way out of Dry January and are looking for a slow sipper post-meal, a well-made White Russian, crafted with good quality ingredients, can be a treat. Reach for decent Russian vodka like Beluga, chilled full cream milk to ensure a decadent full-bodied texture, and a coffee liqueur like Mr Black that’s a light on the sweet and heavy on the coffee goodness. Build the cocktail in a rocks glass over plenty of ice and raise a glass to breaking with convention.
The Dude would certainly abide.
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