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6 Things You Should Know About the White Russian

White Russian
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Liquor.com / Tim Nusog

Ah, the White Russian. It’s a classic, albeit one that’s properly filed under “guilty pleasures” in the recipe box. But this well-known blend of vodka, coffee liqueur and heavy cream is full of surprises. Here are five White Russian facts that you probably didn’t know:

1. It's Relatively Modern

There’s no documented evidence of a White Russian until into the 1960s. The 1961-edition Diner’s Club Drink Book gave a recipe for a Black Russian, minus the cream, with a footnote suggestion that adding dairy to the drink would create a variation known as the White Russian.

2. Its Predecessor Included Gin

A 1930s-era drink called The Russian was made with equal parts gin, vodka and crème de cacao; a variation called for the addition of cream. It fell in and out of fashion for the following three decades until coffee liqueur was introduced to the cocktail.

3. The Dude Saved It from Obscurity

The White Russian’s starring role in the 1998 Coen Brothers classic, The Big Lebowski, catapulted the drink to cult classic status. Our hero, The Dude, drinks eight “Caucasians” throughout the course of the film—nine if you count the one he drops after (spoiler alert) being drugged at porn mogul Jackie Treehorn’s mansion. His trip to the local supermarket in search of cream sets a key subplot in motion. It’s hard to believe it now, but before the movie brought the drink to millions of new fans, it was lapsing into obscurity.

4. These Flavors Taste Amazing When Frozen

The retired Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor From Russia with Buzz was a riff on the White Russian cocktail. It featured light coffee ice cream spiked with coffee liqueur and dark coffee ice cream laced with espresso-fudge chips.

5. It's an International Sensation

Lesser-known (and, let’s be honest, less appealing) White Russian variants include the White Canadian, made with goats’ milk, and the White Mexican, which uses horchata in place of cream.

6. There's Essentially Zero Connection to Russia

The White Russian isn’t Russian in any meaningful way and has only the merest connection to the land of Bolsheviks and tzars. The name is a variant of the Black Russian, which in turn was created by a Belgian bartender in honor of the American ambassador to Luxembourg. (Still no Russians, though, other than the ones who made the vodka.)