The Black Russian is a simple vodka and coffee liqueur drink. It is a popular lowball known throughout the world. It is so widespread that it (and the White Russian) should be one of the first that every aspiring bartender commits to memory.
There really is not much to this easy recipe. You will simply pour your favorite vodka and coffee liqueur over ice, stir, and serve. Yet for all its simplicity, there are a few things that you can do to enhance and perfect the Black Russian.
3 Ways to Improve Your Black Russian
Pour to your personal taste. No one says that you have to pour a Black Russian in any exact proportions, in fact, you should be customizing it to your taste. You can even switch it up depending on your mood.
The 2:1 ratio given in the recipe is a nice balance; the drink is neither too sweet nor too dry. If you want it a little sweeter one night, simply pour more liqueur. If, on the other hand, you would like a drier drink (perfect for dinner), then go with less liqueur and make up for it with vodka.
Experiment with the liquors. Cocktails like this are the perfect way to gauge a new spirit because you come to know it after awhile and can use previous combinations for comparison. If you spy a new coffee liqueur at the liquor store, give it the Black Russian taste test and see how you like it compared to your old favorite.
Tip: Kahlua is not the only coffee out there! Go beyond 'the usual' and discover something new.
The same can be said for vodka, which is a far more complex market with tons of options. There are some amazing vodkas being produced right now. Some fit the luxury category while others are friendlier on the wallet. There is no reason to continue drinking the same vodka you've poured for 10 or 20 years. Get out there and live a little!
Add a hint of flavor. Vodka drinkers tend to shy away from using flavored vodkas in drinks with darker profiles. Sure, it's easy to add a new fruit vodka to drinks like the Madras or Cosmopolitan, but when it comes to those of the Black Russian variety, the choices seem limited.
This is not entirely true, you just have to be more selective and creative in the vodka you pour.
- Coffee Vodka - Play up the coffee flavor by pouring Three Olives Triple Shot Espresso. It adds a fantastic kick.
- Chocolate Vodka - Go for a slightly sweeter Black Russian and pour the likes of Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate. It is as tempting and delicious as it sounds.
- Cake Vodka - If you love the new flavors of dessert vodkas and can't wait until the next one comes out, toss them into your Black Russian. They're actually a great match.
- Two-Flavored Vodka - A few vodka brands specialize in combining two or more flavors and these are perfect for this cocktail because they add just a hint of each flavor. Try something like Stoli's Chocolat Kokonut or Chocolat Razberi.
Beyond these suggestions, think of flavors that you might enjoy in your morning coffee when selecting a flavored vodka.
How Strong is the Black Russian?
Two-ingredient, liquor-only drinks are not weak and they're not intended to be that. Instead, mixed drinks like the Black Russian should be thought of like a scotch on the rocks: a flavorful drink to be enjoyed slowly, sip by sip.
To prove this point, if we make the Black Russian with an 80-proof vodka and 40-proof coffee liqueur using the pours in the recipe above, it would be about 27% ABV (54 proof). It's smoother than a straight shot of vodka, yet retains that full flavor of its ingredients.