Cocktail parties are as synonymous with the ’60s as bell-bottom jeans. Women, clad in geometric swing dresses, sipped Gimlets and Screwdrivers, and served questionable finger food (cheese moulded into the shape of a pineapple; meatballs in grape jelly; onion dip and devilled eggs), while men stood around drinking Martinis and Old Fashioneds.
It was around 1965 that the White Russian first came into play. The Black Russian (a mix of vodka and coffee liqueur) has its origins in the late ’40s, but the addition of cream was a ’60s thing. The drink fell out of favour for a few decades after the ’60s, returning to our collective consciousness in 1998, thanks to The Big Lebowski.
Even if you haven’t seen The Big Lebowski, chances are you’ve heard of its protagonist, The Dude, and know of his penchant for this drink. The Dude’s perfect White Russian is two parts vodka to one part coffee liqueur, topped up with milk or non-dairy creamer (powdered milk). The Dude ain’t fancy.
So what does make the perfect White Russian? “There’s only three elements,” says Matt Linklater, World Class National Finalist and bartender at Sydney’s Bulletin Place, “dairy, vodka and coffee. So you need to make sure those three elements are of the highest quality.”
Linklater, not a fan of drinking caffeine or heavy drinks late at night, pares back the coffee in his version, and replaces the cream with crème fraiche. “I like putting my own contemporary spin on this kitsch cocktail, particularly because the White Russian was a contemporary spin on the Black Russian. I like that it wasn’t really ever original,” he says.
We’re sure The Dude would abide.
Matt Linklater’s White Whale
Makes one. Approximately 1.4 standard drinks.
35ml Ketel One vodka
20ml simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water)
5ml fresh lemon juice
Heaped tbsp crème fraiche
3ml Fernet Branca (or other herbal liqueur)
1 mocha coffee wafer stick (optional)
Coffee bitters* (optional)
Add Ketel One vodka, Fernet Branca, simple syrup, crème fraiche and lemon juice to a cocktail tin and dry shake to emulsify. Add ice and shake quickly to chill the mixture, but not dilute it. Fine strain into a frozen whisky glass, and spray the surface of the drink three times with coffee bitters. Serve with a mocha-coffee wafer stick.
*To make coffee bitters, steep 30g ground coffee in 120ml Ketel One vodka for 10 hours. Strain through a coffee filter, then add the mix to a small spray bottle.