As you might have guessed, this drink happens to be a play on the infamous "White Russian." My version is (creatively) dubbed the "White Ukrainian" due to being thought up by a white Ukrainian (me). However, the only tie to Eastern Europe, as with the original recipe, is the vodka.
In theory, the original White Russian seems like a decadent and extremely satisfying cocktail - boozy, rich, roasty-toasty and sweet. My main qualms with it were:
- It was simply too rich to drink on regular occasions,
- Mixing it with citrus-based drinks over the course of the evening would give me quite the stomach ache, and
- I felt like the vodka was overpowering for my liking.
Basically, I wanted a lighter, more well-balanced and dairy-free alternative that I could enjoy sans guilt. With those goals in mind, I tested out almond milk instead of cream and played with the ratios of coffee liqueur and vodka. I also experimented with craft coffee liqueurs as alternative to Kahlua. Some of my favorites include Crater Lake Hazelnut Espresso Vodka and St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur (for the record, I absolutely love anything made by St. George and recommend you give their gin and other products a try). If you're local to Chicago, West Loop-based CH Distillery has also recently partnered with Dark Matter Coffee to make their own take on coffee liqueur (which is next on my boozy shopping list).
My favorite feature of this cocktail is the creamy coffee flavor, and craft coffee liqueurs tend to outperform their mass-produced counterparts. Think more coffee and less syrupy sweetness. To keep the coffee flavor highlighted, I used less vodka for the same amount of liqueur recommended in a traditional White Russian recipe. I also used more almond milk than the recommended amount of cream, as almond milk has a lot less fat and therefore thinner flavor. If you're a fan of other nut milks (coconut, cashew), feel free to experiment!
The last ingredient is optional but really makes the White Ukrainian shine: espresso. I first tried a White Russian with espresso on a weekend adventure to New Orleans and couldn't get enough. It's the perfect solution to the extreme indecisiveness and lack of motivation your get upon finishing dinner on a weekend. If you need to pump yourself up for going out while also satisfying your craving for dessert, trust me, this will do it.
What if you don't have a fancy expensive espresso machine? That's completely fine. My super versatile espresso tool, the Aeropress, cost me around $30. I've been using it for over four years now and still love the simplicity, efficiency and flavor it offers. Alternatively, you could sub in a strong cold brew coffee for a similar effect.
The White Ukrainian
- 1 oz vodka
- 1 oz coffee liqueur
- 1 shot espresso (optional)
- 4 oz sweetened almond milk
Pour all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously until cocktail is chilled and a light foam has formed. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Garnish with cocoa nibs, cinnamon sugar or the awesome blend of sugar/chocolate/coffee beans from Trader Joe's (pictured in the ingredient shot above). Enjoy along following a steaming bowl of borscht while decked out in your best blue and yellow attire (5 points if you get the blue and yellow reference -> points are redeemable for Valcohol).