The Dude abides… and so does his go-to adult beverage.
The White Russian cocktail, a sweet sipper made with vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream served on the rocks, was nearly obliterated from the drink lexicon until the 1998 film The Big Lebowski. If you’re a fan of the movie, then you know it was the main character’s favorite drink. The Dude (played by Jeff Bridges) drank them so frequently throughout the film—nine times, to be exact, including one made with powdered milk—the drink practically played a supporting role.
And honestly, we can’t blame him for drinking them all day long… and all night, too. Although a White Russian certainly doesn’t have the same sex appeal a Martini or Manhattan does, it is the catch-all cocktail, with most of the vices rolled into one creamy, easy-to-drink concoction: milk, sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. Who can say no to that?
And thanks to the film becoming a cult classic over time, millions of The Big Lebowski fans have come to appreciate the White Russian, which ultimately saved it from extinction. There are even The Big Lebowski-themed bars and pop-up bars around the globe, from Iceland to Texas. A few trends have also further paved the way for the drink’s newfound affection, such as bars in coffee shops, using coffee as a mixer, and a renewed interest in milk punches.
So who made the first one? The original dude credited with creating the drink was Gustave Tops, a Belgian barkeep. In 1949, the story goes that Tops created the Black Russian—a White Russian sans cream—at the Hotel Metropole in Brussels to honor Perle Mesta, then U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Somewhere in the 1950s, when sweet, milky drinks were in their heyday, the cream was added and the White Russian was born. It’s been said the name “Russian” comes from its base spirit of vodka, just like the Moscow Mule. (Originally, all vodka that was exported to the States came from Russia.)
In print, both the white and black versions of the drink appeared for the first time in the 1961 edition of The Diners’ Club Drink Book. Over the next decade, the White Russian surged in popularity as the original adult milkshake.
Today, as the drink has made a sweet comeback, there are dozens of White Russian riffs. For example, the White Mexican uses horchata instead of cream, the Dirty Russian swaps in chocolate milk for cream, the White Belgian uses chocolate liqueur instead of coffee, the White Canadian uses maple whiskey instead of vodka, and the White Cuban swaps out vodka for rum.
So the next time you’re in the mood for a White Russian, make sure to don your rattiest bathrobe, head to the bowling alley, and get ready to say, “Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here!”
Here’s The Dude-approved recipe
- 1 oz. Kahlúa
- 1 oz. Vodka
- 1/2 cup Cream or Milk
Preparation: In a mixing glass, combine the coffee liqueur, vodka, and cream or milk. Pour over ice in a rocks glass.