The Surprising Origin Story Behind The White Russian

When you order a White Russian cocktail, you might assume that the drink was originally crafted in Russia. Or perhaps named for a famous, yet mysterious, Russian individual. But, just like Welsh Rabbit is not made with rabbit and an egg cream contains no eggs (via First We Feast), the truth is this popular drink is just another recipe with a deceptive name.

The White Russian was not born in Russia at all, but actually evolved from a drink created in Belgium — a cocktail that was created for an American! Confused yet? Vinepair shares that the Black Russian (the same vodka and Kahlúa liqueur drink sans the cream, according to was created by a hotel bartender in Brussels in 1949 to honor the U.S. diplomat to Luxembourg, Perle Mesta. According to Britannica, Mesta was an influential and popular American socialite who was known for lavish parties for political elite and world leaders.

Though some sources credit that Belgian bartender with the invention of both the Black and White Russians, Imbibe shares that the White Russian actually didn't appear in print until the 1960s. 

So then, why is it called Russian?

Why give the name "Russian" to a drink invented in Belgium to honor an American? It all has to do with the vodka. Atlas Obscura shares that the popularity of vodka in the U.S. skyrocketed in the '50s and '60s, thanks in part to James Bond, and with it came the appeal of vodka cocktails like Moscow Mules and martinis. The name Black Russian, and subsequently White Russian, were just literal descriptors of the ingredients (black liqueur, white cream), rather than an homage to a person or place, according to

According to Chilled, the White Russian had largely fallen out of popularity until one movie in 1998 brought it back to life: The Big Lebowski. The dark comedy stars Jeff Bridges as "The Dude" who, throughout the movie, downs many, many White Russians. The movie gradually became a cult favorite, and so with it the White Russian.

Today, many variations of this original variation are on the cocktail scene. Chilled shares that one, the White Mexican, is made with sweet horchata instead of cream. A White Canadian calls for maple whiskey in place of the vodka. And of course, there's even a pumpkin spice version, because why not? Delish's Pumpkin Spice White Russian has a sweet pie-style rim and utilizes pumpkin spice creamer. Much like The Dude, the White Russian in all its forms abides.