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.
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.
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 Kahlúa, 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.