For all its faults, American consumer culture ushered in post-World War II made the promise that luxuries would be available to everyone. Cars raced off the lots and television sets virtually lept off the shelves but the unsung victory was won at the supermarket. Ingredients for a cake, something people had to scrape together for special occasions for generations prior, were readily available on fully stocked shelves in every supermarket and grocery store in the nation.
Even with recent inflation and consumers tightening their belts, it is still common to see packaged cookies and six-packs of beer tucked into people’s shopping karts next to grocery essentials.
There are few simpler luxuries available to every man and woman than a cocktail made at home with two or three easy-to-obtain ingredients. The White Russian has two very mundane ingredients- vodka and cream- mixed in equal parts with one a little more exotic, coffee liqueur. The mixture is shaken to thicken the cream and poured over ice.
The “Russian” cocktail dates back to at least the early 1900s. Cocktail historian David Wondrich details a ‘Russian Cocktail” made in a New Orleans bar in 1911 made from vodka and black cherry liqueur. By 1949 we have records of a Black Russian- just the vodka and coffee-flavored spirit. Bartenders were likely adding cream to that well before but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first time “White Russian” appeared in print was in November of 1965 in the Oakland Tribune.
The drink is probably best known today by those who have seen the Cohen Brother’s 1998 classic “The Big Lebowski” in which the main character played by Jeff Bridges and is known in the movie as The Dude is introduced buying half and half for 69 cents with a check. He spends the rest of the movie bumbling around a mystery and looking for his next White Russian which he frequently calls a “Caucasian.”
Perhaps the most memorable scene is when he is manhandled into a limo and yells at his assailant, ‘Careful, man, there’s a beverage here.” He does not spill a drop despite his rough handling.
there is an economic edge to this drink. You probably have most of the ingredients lying around the house, just make sure whatever you use for cream is not past its expiration date. Once you have mastered the basics, this cocktail has a number of variations. A splash of Coke makes Colorado Bulldog and a “Dirty Russian” adds chocolate syrup. I like to replace the cream with Appalachian Sippin’ Cream from Sugarlands Distilling Company to add flavors such as banana pudding and to up the alcohol content a bit.
Mix equal parts coffee liqueur, vodka and cream in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorusly. Pour over ice in a rocks glass.