Monday, March 9, 2015

One for the Road... The White Russian

In "One for the Road", one of the guys takes a quick run at a topic for your reading pleasure. Themes will vary, from classic drinks to hand-crafted ingredients and creations of their own, or whatever suits them at the moment. This go around, David channels the Dude--a bit belatedly, of course--and serves up a White Russian.

On March 6, 1998, the world first got introduced to The Big Lebowski, and the immortal Dude (or His Dudeness, or El Duderino, if you're not into the whole 'brevity' thing). Lo these many years later, I sit here typing this blog on a laptop with a parody of a Shepard Fairey print stuck to the front of it--a silhouette of the Dude where Andre the Giant's face used to be, with the word "ABIDE" beneath it.

I love that sticker. It really ties the computer together.

Anyway--John and I had planned on doing a post on the 6th in honor of that greatest of anniversaries, but in true Dude form... we just didn't get around to it. However, the iconic White Russian could still use a post, and the anniversary could still use a toast, so here we go.

These days, the White Russian has a bit of a bad rap. It's sweet--easily overly sweet, if you're not very careful with it--and not the most complex drink in the world as far as the flavor profile goes. Especially in these days of the craft, the house-made, the first-time-revived-since-Prohibition and the artisanal, the simple and potentially cloying combination of Kahlua, vodka and milk is easily dismissed as a the sort of thing ordered by dilettantes and just-barely-21 college students who don't know any better. Just the fact of its unadorned sweetness stands against it when the collective zeitgeist is shifting towards complexity as a rule, rather than an exception.

But just for that reason, there's also something compelling about it. Every once in a while classics are classics for a reason--they just work kinda well, and in the case of the White Russian, there are very few moving parts to get wrong. It's also an easy drink to make at scale, so if you have a pile of people over and you're looking for something you can make in pitcher-sized amounts without sacrificing much, this is a good one to go with. It has its place!

The Recipe
The basic platform is easy enough--this is a good example of the rule of thumb for a fairly vast range of cocktails that involve two types of booze (one for the major flavor and one for counterpoint) and then a "filler."

1.5oz of the main
3/4oz of the secondary
then the rest gets filled with the soda, juice or other filler. If you're using a traditional jigger to measure this out, it's particularly easy--the big side of that jigger is 1.5oz, and the smaller one is 3/4oz.

In this case, to wit:
1.5oz of vodka
3/4oz of Kahlua
milk--or cream, if you're feeling like you've been too healthy already today--to fill it.

White Russians should be served cold, on the rocks, in a lowball glass. A quick shake to chill it and emulsify the various ingredients, then pour it all back into the glass, and you're good to go. Although the Kahlua's the lesser of the two volumes of alcohol, the neutrality of the vodka and the brute force of its own flavor will still put it in the position it should have--if you screw up and reverse the two, however, be prepared for a candied parody of a drink.

That said--yes, I know the one I made for this picture isn't emulsified. That's on purpose, for the sole reason that let's face it, a fully-made White Russian just isn't that interesting to look at. Un-mixed, however, it's got that nice cloudy thing going for it. The visual is good, just don't ever serve one to someone that way--they'll go through solid vodka first, kinda sorta mixed with milk, then get a big ol' slug of solid Kahlua at the bottom. Pleasing? Not so much. Mix that bad boy.

I also doctored this one up a bit with two things, since the basic drink is good, but also a really good platform for tinkering around with. In this case, I used some of the last of a batch of coffee and pecan bitters that I made a while back, which matches perfectly with the coffee-flavored Kahlua, offsets the sweetness just a bit, and ups the complexity nicely. The other thing I added is Cardamaro--a bitter Amaro made in this case from cardoons. It changes the flavor profile quite a bit--if you do add something like this to play around, take the volume from the Kahlua, not the vodka--leave that part be, otherwise we're back to the cloyingly sweet problem.

So... there we have it. a good drink for cold nights, actually, but also one that you can ice up a bit more and serve in hot weather as well (though in that case I'd go for lighter-fat milk and definitely not cream). Also a good drink to have on hand for people who may feel a bit intimidated by cocktails in general, and who may be put off by too much going-on about smoked, bitter and other such. It's a classic--don't mess around with it too much. Just...


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