Black Russian

With just two ingredients, this cocktail is the coffee purist's dream drink.

Black Russian Cocktail
Photo:

Matt Taylor-Gross / Food Styling by Lucy Simon

While perhaps lesser known relative to its milky counterpart, the White Russian, the Black Russian is a celebration of coffee made boozy. Made by simply mixing coffee liqueur with vodka, this cocktail presents the flavor of coffee in full force, without the presence of any additional milk or sweeteners. 

This cocktail gets its signature deep black hue from coffee liqueur, a slightly sweet ingredient with a pronounced coffee flavor. “[Liqueurs] often have fruit, nuts, herbs, and spices, even coffee or chocolate added to them,” explains Lynette Marrero, co-founder of women’s bartending competition SpeedRack. Since liqueurs are made of a base distilled spirit with sweetener and flavor, the brand you choose for a simple cocktail like the Black Russian, that only has two ingredients, can significantly affect the outcome of your cocktail. 

When it comes to coffee liqueurs to choose from, there are two directions: a vodka-based liqueur or a rum-based option. We’re fans of Mr. Black, a rum-based coffee liqueur that is on the less sweet side, yet still has enough sugar to round out the cocktail. For those who want a drink that leans sweeter, Kahlúa, a vodka-based liqueur will be just the thing. An ingredient like Bailey’s, a coffee-flavored Irish cream, will give you lovely flavor, but has plenty of sugar, and risks pushing your cocktail toward becoming a White Russian, not a Black Russian. 

The Black Russian rose in popularity alongside (well, a bit behind actually) the more well-known White Russian. Ironically enough, neither cocktail was invented in Russia nor do they have much to do with Russia besides their use of vodka. In the 1940s and succeeding decades the cocktail, both with and without cream popularized as sweeter, more indulgent cocktails were in vogue. These drinks stand in stark contrast to the high-proof, dry cocktails of prohibition times like the Old Fashioned and the Corpse Reviver. Whether it was the cushy new comforts of the mid-20th century, or political tensions with Russia, folks were craving this sweeter, coffee-forward cocktail. Since this drink has so few ingredients, reach for the good stuff and serve it over a big cube of slow-melting ice— your future self will thank you for an undiluted, delicious drink.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces vodka

  • 1 ounce coffee liqueur (such as Mr. Black)

  • 1 maraschino cherry (for garnish)

Directions

  1. Add vodka and Mr. Black to an ice-filled mixing glass and stir

  2. Strain into a rocks glass with ice, and garnish with a maraschino cherry if desired.

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