Despite their name, White Russian cocktails did not originate in Russia. While its origin is still somewhat mysterious, some cocktail aficionados think the White Russian derived from Belgium when a barman created the drink as well as its ascetic cousin, the Black Russian.
Traditionally, White Russians have emphasized the combination of vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream. They are usually served in Old-Fashioned cocktail glasses over ice. Black Russians simply do without the dairy, preferring the more stripped-down vodka and coffee liqueur combination.
While we think the White Russian is a unique drink that deserves indulgence, we think some updates are in order for anyone exploring its range of tastes.
In this article, we offer a very stimulating and modern take on the classic White Russian, gearing our drink towards anyone who follows a vegan lifestyle. Towards the end of the article, we discuss which foods we recommend pairing with this cocktail.
The Vegan White Russian Cocktail Recipe
In order to make this drink vegan, the only ingredient we need to take out is the cream. Both vodka and coffee liqueur are traditionally made without animal products, making them suitable for vegans to drink.
Making the Cream from Coconuts
To replace the cream, we usually make some homemade coconut milk and allow the cream to separate. In order to make coconut milk, we take the meat from two young Thai coconuts and blend it with the coconut water that we extracted from these coconuts. Once a creamy mixture results, we pour this over a nut milk bag or cheesecloth, straining out the milky liquid.
We also make sure to keep some of the coconut water separate from the resultant coconut milk in order to use this sweet liquid in the final preparation of our cocktail.
We don’t throw away the coconut material that didn’t make it through the strainer, as this will be used to put the finalizing touch on this White Russian cocktail. Instead, we lay out this material on parchment paper on a tray. We think let this dry in the sun for a day, which provides us with dried coconut flakes.
We usually store our coconut milk in the fridge, making sure to write the date that we made it on its jar. This date is important to remember, as coconut milk goes bad within 5-7 days if it’s freshly made. The reason many store-bought coconut milks have such a long shelf life is because they are usually loaded with preservatives that prevent them from going bad. The fact that your freshly made coconut milk is delicate indicates that it’s a high-quality product.
After putting it in the fridge, it usually takes at least several hours for the cream to separate, possibly even longer. In this sense, we recommend making your coconut cream at least a day in advance for this recipe, as this will assure the development of a beautiful layer of cream.
Sourcing the Coffee Liqueur
Kahlua and Tia Maria are two of the most popular brands of coffee liqueur. As such, these liqueurs are usually used in White Russian cocktails, especially at tailgates when energy is desired. Coffee contains high levels of caffeine, which is a central nervous system stimulant.
We want to emulate these energizing effects while simultaneously giving people a healthy drink they can rely on daily. While we think an occasional indulgence might be acceptable, we think most modern people crave a reliable drink they can consume frequently without problems. A liqueur loaded with sugar simply doesn’t fit that bill.
This represents a drawback of classic White Russians, as refined sugar has come under attack in recent years as being an unhealthy additive that can disturb your digestion. This is not something you want when drinking a cocktail, as the main purpose of the cocktail is to make you feel good and energized.
To give people a similar set of tastes, we use a combination of freshly made espresso, coconut water, and vodka. Any vodka can be used, though the higher quality, the better. We tend to prefer Grey Goose vodka or Absolut vodka for this drink, as we think these vodkas have a nutty, earthy taste that pairs perfectly with the pervasive coconut flavor.
We usually use whatever espresso beans are roasted locally if that’s an option. The fresher the bean, the more robust tasting the espresso will be. If espresso cannot be sourced, extremely concentrated regular coffee could be used.
In order to emulate the sugary sweetness of traditional coffee liqueurs, we usually pour a splash or two of the coconut water kept separate from the coconut milk. This gives the drink a natural sweetness while not forcing people to drink processed, refined sugars.
Finalizing the Vegan White Russian Cocktail
In order to put this drink together, we first acquire an Old-Fashioned glass, as we think the drink taste best drunken from this container.
We first pour 1-2 shots of espresso into this container. Then, we add about 1-2 shots of vodka depending on how we feel. On weekends, you can find us erring on the side of 2 shots of vodka and 2 shots of espresso, as we can often use the extra energy to support prolonged tailgate events.
Next, we put 3-4 ice cubes in this drink. Then, we add a splash or two of pure coconut water.
Finally, we top off the drink with the cream that was generated from our coconut milk recipe. The cream should rise to the top of your homemade coconut milk, allowing you to spoon it out for this cocktail. We recommend only using a few scoops, as coconut cream is quite fatty and concentrated. A lot goes a long way in this regard.
When we want to make this drink lighter, we use about half coconut cream and half coconut milk. When we want it as heavy and thick as possible, we only use coconut cream.
No matter what, we usually top this drink with some coconut flakes. If your coffee is freshly brewed, then this should result in the perfect tailgate drink, as the coconut flakes will slowly dissolve into the hot coffee over the course of your event. This enhances the creaminess of the drink and makes it ideal for cold weather.
Alternatively, some people just use cold brewed coffee for this drink, especially during the warmer summer months. This changes the drink slightly, as the coconut flakes will likely not dissolve. This gives some of the sips a nutty, crunchy bite, as the drinker is able to munch on some coconut flakes throughout the imbibement.
Foods to Pair With this Vegan White Russian
Since this cocktail emphasizes raw, unrefined ingredients, it pairs extremely well with a number of healthy vegan foods.
For example, we love drinking this for brunch on the weekends when we have blueberry pancakes made from buckwheat flour. The sweetness of the blueberry and the nuttiness of the buckwheat complements the coffee, coconut, and vodka perfectly.
If you’re feeling especially gutsy, then you can even try pouring some of this drink over your pancakes as a kind of sauce. If you plan on doing this, we recommend using more coconut cream and coconut milk for a thicker sauce. This is one of our favorite ways of getting in our daily caffeine while also consuming one of our favorite brunch meals.
We also think this cocktail pairs well with anything meaty. If you eat animal products, this means steak, potatoes, and asparagus, or some similar combination of meat, potatoes, and vegetables. If you follow a vegan lifestyle, then this could be some combination of rice, portabella mushrooms, potatoes, and asparagus.
Generally, since this drink features both coffee and vodka, we tend to eat lighter foods when enjoying it. We don’t think coffee or vodka digests well when paired with heavy foods, as coffee and vodka are highly mind-altering. Our body requires significant digestive energy in order to make use of these substance’s mind-altering potential.
Consequently, we don’t recommend having desserts with this cocktail, as this drink is so rich and sweet already that it could even function as a dessert.
Our Final Thoughts on the Future of White Russians
Even though White Russians have been popular now for over 70 years, we think the classic iteration of this cocktail is coming to an end.
We think the world is moving away from consuming alcohol, as the dangers of alcohol have been evident for quite some time. In the future, we think people will integrate a healthier yet similarly bitter admixture into their cocktail. For example, we can envision people using lemon, lime or ginger juice.
We also think that future people will use vegan creams like coconut cream rather than cream made from cow’s milk. Coconut cream can easily be made at home, making it a very affordable cream. Store-bought creams often have transportation and labor costs built in, making them more expensive.
At the end of the day, as long as you consume this drink in moderation, you should benefit from its health-promoting and stimulating properties.