What is a Black Russian?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A Black Russian is a cocktail which is made with coffee liqueur and vodka, served over crushed ice. This cocktail is quite common in many regions of the world, and it is often one of the first drinks that a bartender learns to prepare. Black Russians are very easy to make at home, and they do not require any special bar tools or complicated tricks. Black Russians can also be tweaked for a variety of tastes and occasions.

Vodka is one component of a Black Russian.
Vodka is one component of a Black Russian.

This cocktail is designed to be served in an old-fashioned glass, sometimes called a lowball glass. These low, basic tumblers are designed to accommodate a scoop of ice and several mixed ingredients. Typically, a Black Russian is served without a garnish, although a cocktail straw or stirrer may be included to stir up the ingredients. If you are stocking a home bar, many kitchen supply stores sell cocktail glasses of varying shapes or sizes, and you might as well get a full set so that all of your glasses match.

Mint liqueur is used to replace the coffee liqueur in Green Russians.
Mint liqueur is used to replace the coffee liqueur in Green Russians.

Credit for the development of the Black Russian is usually given to Gustave Tops, a Belgian bartender who worked in the 1940s. The name of the drink is allegedly a reference to the tense relations between Russia and much of Europe during the Cold War, and to the fact that the drink contains vodka, a classically Russian alcohol. Tops used a roughly 2:1 ratio of vodka to coffee liqueur, although different bartenders may adjust this ratio slightly for personal taste.

One common choice of coffee liqueur for Black Russians is KahlĂșa, although other brands may be used as well. The drink is made by measuring ice into the glass, pouring vodka over it, and then adding the coffee liqueur. The bartender who makes the drink may stir it to mix it, or present it with the layers separated, allowing the consumer to stir if desired. A variant on the drink is the Tall Black Russian, made in a highball glass and mixed with cola.

In addition to a Black Russian, one can also make Red Russians, with cherry brandy instead of coffee liqueur, and Green Russians, which use mint liqueur to replace the coffee liqueur. In the 1960s, another version of this cocktail known as the White Russian was developed. White Russians use the same ingredients, but add a layer of milk or cream to turn the cocktail into a very rich drink suitable for after dinner consumption.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


If you check one online article you can see that the drink was made by the Belgian bartender in Hotel Metropole Brussels, and he made it especially for a 1940's socialite who was ambassador for the USA in Luxembourg. Cool story to check out. I like the dirty black russian, which is a mix of vodka cola.


I have always preferred the black Russian to the white Russian. I like white Russians all right but you can really only drink one or maybe two of them before they start to get heavy in your stomach. It is a lot of milk over the course of a night. But the black Russian is a lighter sharper alternative that tastes great and definitely gets your night going.


My dad had his own black Russian recipe with vodka and coffee liquor but then also a dash of bitters. You wouldn't think that bitters and coffee would go well together but it was really tasty.

He never seemed to make any cocktail the way that other people did. It was almost a point of pride for him to have his own special recipe. Not all of them were as good as the black Russian but some were. I always thought that he would do well as a bartender.


A black Russian is probably my favorite cocktail I know some people who think that it is too sweet or creamy but those are the best parts of it for me. It's almost like drinking a glass of melted ice cream that has a kick of vodka in it.

Unfortunately there is a lot of bars that will charge you incredible prices for ordering one of these. Any time you start mixing liquors the price goes through the roof.

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