The White Russian cocktail, vodka, Kahlúa and cream, might have been relegated to the fringes of the cocktail world had it not been for the popularity of The Big Lebowski and Jeff Bridges's enormously appealing performance as the ever-abiding Dude, aka Jeff Lebowski, a slacker and avid bowler.
According to the Wiki entry for the cocktail, The White Russian began in 1949 as a Black Russian—Kahlúa and vodka—when vodka was still largely imported from Russia and Eastern Europe and Americans mainly drank whiskey and gin. Vodka began to be produced in the U.S. only after prohibition's appeal. (There's a great book, and story, by Victorino Matus about how vodka took over America; shows the power of marketing.)
And according to a post at thealcoholenthusiast.com, the first reference to a White Russian was in March, 1965, also apparently a marketing device. Southern Comfort was promoting its own coffee liqueur called "Coffee Southern," and included a White Russian in a slew of cocktail suggestions (including a "Southern Grasshopper," equal parts Coffee Southern, creme de menthe, brandy, and cream; or, according to the exact recipe, "fresh" cream—what was up with that in 1965—did they have fake cream along with the fake butter?).
As for the fate of Coffee Southern? Well, clearly, Smirnoff had a better marketing strategy.
But that first recipe called for equal parts vodka, Kahlúa (the Mexican coffee liqueur, which began to be imported to the US around the same time vodka began to be produced, interestingly), and cream. The Kahlúa site still recommends this ratio.
And this is why, I think, it earned its reputation as a cocktail for rubes. It’s more like a dessert than a cocktail in those proportions.
The best proportions, after diligent trial and error, are these: 2 parts vodka, 1 part coffee liqueur, ½ part cream, fresh of course.
I didn’t see The Dude actually measure anything in the movie, but I like to believe, if he tasted this version, he’d smack his lips and say, “I can abide by that.”
- 2 ounces vodka
- 1 ounce Kahlúa
- ½ ounce cream (1 tablespoon)
- ice as needed
- Combine the liquids, add ice, and stir.