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How the White Russian Got Its Name

White Russian

The white Russian cocktail is a sweet sipper prepared with vodka, cream, and coffee liqueur. When you hear a White Russian cocktail, you probably assume that the drink was originally made in Russia. Or probably named for a famous and mysterious Russian individual, but the truth is that a renowned cocktail is just another drink with a deceptive name. The White Russian is an easy-to-make cocktail that looks fancy and elegant. Although the cocktail has been around for about seventy years, it burst into American popularity when the Big Lebowski featured it on the big screen. Here is a look at how the White Russian got its name.

The Origin of The White Russian

The white Russian was first mixed up in 1949 when a Belgian bartender, Gustave Tops, made a luxurious cocktail, the Black Russian. The bartender made the Black Russian cocktail at Hotel Metropole in Brussels in honor of Perle Mesta, a US ambassador to Luxembourg. According to Britannica, Mesta was a famous and influential American socialite due to lavish parties for world leaders and the political elite. Around the 1950s, when milky, sweet drinks were in their prime, the cream was added, leading to the emergence of the White Russian cocktail. The difference between the two cocktails is that the black Russian lacks the cream. The black and white Russian cocktail appeared in The Diners' Club Drink Book 1961 edition in print. The White Russian boosted popularity over the next decade as the original milkshake. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the White Russian was first mentioned as a cocktail in California's Oakland Tribune in 1965.

How Did the Cocktail Get Its Name?

So, why is a drink originating in Belgium to honor an American ambassador named 'Russian'? The drink has Russian in its name because it features vodka as its main ingredient. According to Atlas Obscura, the vodka's popularity in the US shot up in the 1950s and 1960s partly contributed to James Bond, and with the popularity came the increased appeal of vodka cocktails such as martinis and Moscow Mules. The term Black Russian and later White Russian was given as a description of the ingredients, i.e., black liqueur and white cream, rather than describing the place of origin of an individual.

Cinematic Popularity

The White Russian was once not a very popular cocktail and was almost obliterated from the cocktail dictionary until the 1998 film The Big Lebowski. If you have come across the movie, you know the drink was a favorite for the main character. The Dude, role played by Jeff Bridges, drank the White Russian drink regularly throughout the film. The drink hence played a significant part as a supporting role. And we can't blame The Dude for drinking them all day and night. Even after the movie's release, Jeff Bridges claimed that he put little significance into the choice of the on-screen cocktail. The white Russian is a catch-all cocktail with milk, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol rolled into an easy-to-drink, creamy concoction. Thanks to the movie, which has become a cult classic over the years, millions of The Big Lebowski fans today appreciate the White Russian and have saved the drink from extinction.

A White Russian craze emerged as a part of the newly found Dudeism religion that made the sales of the cream increase even among the people who were not previously used to dairy products, mainly when mixed with vodka. The Big Lebowski-themed bars have also popped up worldwide. Some trends have also paved the way further for the white Russian newfound popularity, such as coffee as a mixer, bars in coffee shops, and a transformed interest in milk punches. Each year, the largest gathering of White Russian and Big Lebowski fans flocks at the Lebowski Fest hosted in Britain and the United States, including; Los Angeles, New York, and London. The White Russian is not only featured in the Big Lebowski movie. In the Cat woman movie, the title character, Halle Berry, teasingly requests a White Russian without liquor and vodka. Which cat can resist a cream? In the Supernatural, a US TV series, Einstein prepares one cocktail while in Paradise. At the same time, in the British TV comedy, The IT Crowd, it's the preferred drink of Maurice Moss, the anti-hero character.


  • 1 oz. Vodka
  • 1 oz. Kahlua coffee liqueur
  • ½ cup Cream or Milk


Mix the vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream or milk in a mixing glass. Put them in a rocks glass and pour over ice. However, keep in mind that milk will result in a thin drink compared to the thick cream. The White Russian cocktail is relatively potent with a pleasant milky aftertaste.

White Russian Variations

The White Russian is taken not just as a standalone drink but also with light desserts such as cheesecake. But because it features sugar and rich cream, it's filling in its unique way. Those who take it late in the evening or all night might have increased blood sugar in the morning and a hangover. Today, the White Russian cocktail has made a massive comeback with dozens of White Russian riffs. For instance, the Dirty Russian substitutes cream for chocolate milk, the White Mexican swaps the cream for horchata (a drink prepared with almond milk instead of cream), the White Canadian substitutes vodka for maple whiskey, the White Belgian swaps coffee for chocolate liqueur and the White Cuban substitutes vodka for rum. You can also prepare a more potent Red Russian cocktail without cream. The Slim Russian is a lite version of the cocktail made with low-calorie or soy milk. This same drink prepared with kefir or skim milk is also named Anna Kournikova to honor the Russian tennis player. In some cases, some ice cream is used instead of cream, an option that is primarily popular among young women. The frozen version of the white Russian is prepared by whipping all the ingredients, including ice cubes, until it becomes consistent wet snow served into a chilled glass.

Lily Wordsmith

Written by Lily Wordsmith

Lily Wordsmith is a freelance writer who has had a love affair with the written word for decades. You can find her writing blog posts and articles while sitting under a tree at the local park watching her kids play, or typing away on her tablet in line at the DMV. In addition to her freelance career, she is pursuing ebook writing with an ever-growing repertoire of witty ebooks to her name. Her diversity is boundless, and she has written about everything from astrobotany to zookeepers. Her real passions are her family, baking desserts and all things luxe.

Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith

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