Want a cocktail veganized? Bought a bottle of something and don’t know what to do with it? Need a cool mocktail? Want to make your own liqueur? We’ll drink to that. Bartenderly is here to make all your vegan drinking dreams come true. If you want to check on whether a specific brand of alcohol is vegan, I recommend Barnivore.
When I started this column, my thoughts naturally immediately leapt to cocktails that traditionally use dairy products and how to make them vegan. But the thing is, with most creamy classics, such as the Grasshopper and the Brandy Alexander — and correct me if I’m wrong — people just aren’t out there ordering them in great quantities these days. People want Aperol Spritzes, Negronis, Margaritas and Long Island Iced Teas, but they don’t necessarily want a glass of minty cream.
But then I remembered that perennial classic: The White Russian. This cocktail was first documented in the 1960s and had its peak in the disco haze of the 1970s, before waning in popularity until the slow-burn cult popularity of the 1998 film The Big Lebowski made it seem like a discerning choice.
Would this drink have remained a relic of the past if not for being the chosen beverage of Jeff Bridge’s character, and if that character wasn’t such an appealingly self-possessed guy with the all-encompassing masculine soubriquet of “The Dude”? Given that most creamy cocktails have fallen by the wayside, considered quaint and kitschy, the White Russian has a lot to thank The Big Lebowski for. By ordering this cocktail, you’re not-so-subtly aligning yourself with the artlessly cool image of The Dude himself, to all who behold you drinking it.
On the other hand, it probably would have made a comeback somehow — unlike creme de menthe and brandy, coffee is a far more universally appealing flavour, and what’s not to love about a drink that’s essentially an alcoholic milkshake?
Well, the milk, first of all.
I decided to compare and contrast two plant-based replacements for the usual cream, milk, or half-and-half that makes up the non-alcoholic portion of the White Russian. I made one with oat milk, and one with coconut milk, and the results were happily both delicious in their own ways. The oat milk had a distinctive nuttiness that gave the effect of having poured coffee into a bowl of cereal. It was great, but you definitely get that oaty flavour profile with it. The taste of the coconut milk blended more seamlessly with the sweetness of the coffee liqueur, making a silky cocktail with a slight, not overwhelming, beachy hint of coconut flavour. Generally the White Russian cocktail uses more vodka than liqueur or equal parts, but I found that both these versions benefited from a larger proportion of coffee — it made the flavour more rich and fulsome.
I encourage you to try these with other different plant milks — I think cashew milk would be great here, or coconut cream for a particularly heady cocktail. Obviously each milk is going to bring its own unique flavour to the table, but I’m going to assume if you’re reading this that you not only know what you’re looking for in a plant milk, you’re also okay with things not tasting like cow’s milk!
Oat Milk White Russian
- One ½ ounce coffee liqueur
- ½ oz vodka
- Two ounce oat milk
Pour the coffee liqueur and vodka into a short tumbler filled with fresh ice. Top with the oat milk, and either serve as is, so that you can see the separate layers (as I’ve done) or stir to combine the ingredients. Alternatively, you could shake all the ingredients together with ice and then strain them over fresh ice for a more frothy, milkshake style drink. I dusted a little chocolate powder over the top for garnish, but this is entirely optional.
Coconut Milk White Russian
- One ounce coffee liqueur
- ½ ounce vodka
- Two ounces coconut milk
As above, place the vodka and liqueur into an ice-filled glass, then top with the coconut milk. Serve as it is in layers, or stir to combine.
- Both the oat milk and coconut milk were the sort that comes in a carton for barista use. If you’re using tinned coconut milk, make sure to give it a good shake first before you open so that the separated cream and coconut water combine.
- As always, 1oz = 30ml = 1 shot.
All photos taken at Laundry Bar in Wellington, New Zealand.