10 Best Vodkas For A White Russian

Americans have a love affair with vodka. According to the Distilled Spirits Council, the $7.3 billion vodka industry continues to rise, enjoying an almost 5% growth in 2021 from the previous year. While you can enjoy the spirit in the morning via Bloody Mary and Screwdriver cocktails followed by evening martinis and highballs, it's tough to beat a White Russian nightcap. The sweet sipper enjoyed a revival in the late 1990s as The Dude's beverage of choice in the "The Big Lebowski" (via The New York Times). Slightly bitter and slightly sweet, the classic White Russian recipe consists of a mere three ingredients: vodka, Kahlúa, and heavy cream (though feel free to use a non-dairy substitution).  

Despite the cocktail's name, it lacks a Russian pedigree. The drink's origin dates back to 1949 in the form of its sister cocktail, the Black Russian. As noted by Travel Distilled, a bartender at the Hotel Monopole in Belgium mixed vodka and coffee liqueur over ice to celebrate the visiting American Ambassador to Luxembourg, Perle Mesta. Including Russia in the title brought intrigue to the cocktail, giving the nod to the mystery associated with the country behind the Iron Curtain. Eventually heavy cream was added to the mix, and the White Russian was born. 

While opting to make to the cocktail is an easy choice, choosing the right bottle for its signature spirit is a tougher proposition. That's why we compiled a list of the best vodkas to mix for the perfect White Russian. Take it from The Dude and abide.

Smirnoff Vodka 100 Proof

The history of vodka rests in Russia. According to Drink Stack, the spirit originated in the 9th century, and its name is a variation on "voda," which means "water" in Russian. Despite its roots, USA Today notes only a fraction of the spirit the U.S. imports is from Russia. Even vodka brands that are Russian in origin are now produced elsewhere.

That includes Smirnoff, which is the largest and top-selling vodka producer in the world, as reported by The Drinks Business in 2021. While the brand was first established in Moscow over a century ago, it re-established itself outside of Russia after founding members of the Smirnov family fled the country during the revolution. Today, Smirnoff is wholly owned by British-based Diageo, and its distilleries are located throughout the world.

Classic Smirnoff Vodka is available in multiple proofs, but for your White Russian, we suggest going big and keeping it 100. A pour from the blue-label bottle will create a potent cocktail without overwhelming the drink, as the vodka undergoes filtration 10 times to create a dry, smooth, clean product. The drink will be strong, but won't pack quite the same punch as a 100 proof vodka and club soda.

Nemiroff De Luxe Honey Pepper Vodka

The Spirits Business named Nemiroff the 2021 Vodka Brand Champion within the sector, noting that it enjoyed an over 18% growth in 2021 over the previous year. The distillery began 150 years ago in Nemyriv, an industrial town in Podolia, Ukraine. Per Nemiroff, the principles that guide the brand today are the same as those established in the late 1800s, including following high-quality standards as well as following traditional recipes while constantly innovating. Recent additions to the lineup include interesting, flavorful combinations such as the DeLuxe Honey Pepper.  

Luxury grain vodka combines with natural honey, warm spice (think nutmeg, clove, and allspice), wild herb, and fiery red chili pepper. Added to a White Russian, it helps to create a toffee, coffee, and caramel-filled cocktail with a subtle kick of heat when mixed with the coffee liqueur and cream. Punch up the spice by mixing with Kahlúa Chili Chocolate liqueur. 

Sobieski Vodka

Though vodka is meant to be a tasteless spirit (flavored vodkas being a notable exception), each has definitive qualities and attributes that make it unique. Some reveal a creaminess on the palate; some give a spicy sensation; others share subtle citrus, earth, or pepper aromas or flavors. Using different base components can lend different flavor profiles to the vodka. For instance, rye instead of wheat, potato, or corn gives the spirit a clean, dry, slightly herbal palate, whereas the latter will have sweeter, earthier notes, per Black Tail NYC. 

Poland's Sobieski is lean, straightforward, and smooth. The spirit utilizes golden Dankowski rye grown in Poland's Mazowse fields and naturally filtered water from the Oligocene epoch springs, per The Spruce Eats, which also notes, "The taste is nice and smooth and light, with the slightest hints of freshly harvested rye. It finishes with a semi-dry, silky fruit tone in a very short burst." 

Currently around $10 for a 750-milliliter bottle), consider Sobieski for an uncomplicated, no-frills approach to your White Russian.

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Tito's Handmade is the top-selling vodka brand produced within the United States, per VinePair. The Austin, Texas-based spirit is crafted in the first legal distillery in the Lone Star State. The company began as a micro-distillery using old-fashioned pot stills by a former oil and gas guy who started making flavored vodkas on the side for friends. Starting the company with overcharged credit cards and handshake deals in 1997, founder, Bert "Tito" Beveridge II, has a net worth today right around $5.3 billion, according to Forbes.

What is Tito's secret to success? The brand maintains the grassroots values that shaped the company from its start 25 years ago, per the company. Producing the vodka in small batches using pot stills takes more time and effort, with the resulting product being of the highest quality, per the company. Another key factor of its success, the brand uses American-grown corn as the base for its vodka. Corn is readily available and inexpensive in the United States, helping Tito's stay affordable. Wine Enthusiast named it as a Best Buy vodka, noting its sweet flavors of roasted grain which combine with smoky charcoal. That robust character makes it an ideal fit for a White Russian, bringing out the sweetness of the cream and coffee notes of the Kahlua in the cocktail.  

Reyka Vodka

Produced from Icelandic wheat, barley, and glacial spring water, Reyka small-batch Vodka is clean, fresh, and balanced. The vodka is distilled using geothermal energy, and distillation takes 6 hours to complete. Each batch is then filtered through lava rocks found throughout the volcanic island, removing any impurities and ensuring a pristine product is delivered. With these standards, quality over quantity prevails as each batch of vodka crafted in this manner only delivers 255 cases.

The beauty of Reyka is in refreshing flavor profile and superior smoothness. Saveur deemed it the top overall vodka, highlighting its silky profile and refined style. Combining high quality, an energizing yet soft palate, and a taste that is pure and clean, Reyka will easily enrich any cocktail's flavor profile, including a White Russian. For a slight detour from tradition, we suggest elevating your coffee liqueur game with Kahlúa Salted Carmel. The crispness of the vodka allows the liqueur's essence to shine, creating an incredible creamy, sweet, and slightly savory treat.

Absolut Vanilla Vodka

For a vanilla twist to the White Russian, consider an option from one of the most recognizable brands of vodka internationally, Absolut. The distillery's history dates back over a century to its start in Stockholm when a Swedish entrepreneur and businessman, L.O. Smith, crafted an absolutely pure Swedish vodka spirit. After all of those years, Absolut attributes its success today to following the principles Smith established in the 1870s, including having complete control over every element of production.

While the standard Absolut will work just fine for a White Russian, the vanilla version takes the cocktail to another level. Luscious and sweet, it tastes like Madagascar bourbon vanilla, caramel, and toffee, per the brand's official Sensory Manager. Combining these flavors enhances the rich and creamy profile, taming the coffee liqueur's bitterness. Don't be afraid to pop this version into the blender with a lot of ice (and perhaps a few scoops of coffee ice cream) for the ultimate adult milkshake.

Duckworth Truffle Vodka

Give yourself a European vacation in a glass using Duckworth Truffle Vodka to craft a sharp, savory expression of the White Russian cocktail. Imagine the flavors of an expensive shaved truffle on top of a warm baguette with fresh salted butter, sipped with a simple espresso. Add a soundtrack of Edith Piaf in the background, perhaps a bit of afternoon rain, and you are instantly transported to a café in Paris. 

Handcrafted in small batches in Dallas, Texas, by a former award-winning winemaker turned distiller, the vodka begins with sugar cane. This base is distilled seven times before the vodka undergoes an infusion with French black winter truffles. "Truffle buttered mashed potatoes, lemon chiffon, and minerals" were the flavor notes the Tasting International Review of Spirits used to describe the unusual fusion (via D Magazine). The Duckworth Truffle Vodka and coffee liqueur combination will please any lover of the fragrant fungus. The complex, perfumed characteristics of the vodka highlight the bitter coffee notes of the Kahlúa, creating a delectable cocktail with inviting savory qualities instead of the sweetness often associated with a White Russian. Sip slowly in order to appreciate each earthy moment.

Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Vodka

Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate is ideal for lovers of rich cocoa and freshly roasted coffee. The vodka brings hints of sweetness with the kiss of sweet milk chocolate, enhancing the coffee notes by taming some of the bitterness. The company notes its vodka starts with a blend of wheat sourced from Holland, Germany, and France. Each one of the brand's flavored vodkas undergoes an all-natural double infusion process. We endorse this step because it ensures that the flavors taste authentic without having a cloying sweetness found in some flavored vodka options. 

Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate infuses cocoa, coffee, and toasted caramel flavors into the spirit, giving the vodka creamy sweetness, bitterness, and spice. A fun twist would also be to mix with Kahlúa's Mint-Mocha liqueur. The combination will be like drinking kicked-up mint-chocolate chip ice cream. If that seems too rich for your taste, don't be afraid to save a few calories and add 2% milk instead of cream.

Three Olives Triple Shot Espresso Vodka

Is there anything better than waking up to the aromas of freshly-brewed coffee on a lazy Sunday morning when the only activity scheduled for the day is relaxing? If these thoughts take you to your happy place, look no further than adding Three Olives Triple Shot Espresso Vodka to mix your White Russian. The British vodka is crafted from fine English-grown wheat and distilled and filtered four times to create a clean, balanced spirit per the brand. Each of Three Olives' flavored expressions is meant to offer bold, intense flavors. The goal is to pack a flavor punch when mixed into cocktails. 

The espresso vodka opens with aromas of dark-roasted Arabica coffee and charred tree nuts, according to Three Olives. These scents lead to flavors of dark chocolate, espresso, smoky ash, brown spice, and anise, which mingle harmoniously within the vodka. When the vodka and liqueur combine, their flavors highlight the appealing natural bitterness found in coffee while maintaining balance thanks to the subtle sweetness of dark chocolate in the vodka. The result is a full-bodied, decadent cocktail with concentrated coffee flavors. Consider mixing Kahúla's Especial dark-roasted espresso flavored liqueur for a deep-roasted, mocha-filled treat satisfying the most discerning java lover. Think of it as a boozy iced coffee or a top-shelf espresso martini over ice.

Ciroc Coconut Vodka

Bringing flavors of the tropics to the cocktail, Ciroc Coconut Vodka has aromas of fresh coconut, roasted nuts, and vanilla, with flavor notes of fresh cream, coconut, toasted spice, and subtle notes of golden grapes, ripe mango, and fresh pineapple. According to the brand, this ultra-premium vodka starts with French-grown grapes as the base. These grapes undergo distillation five times to ensure a pure, fresh, smooth product. The first four times the vodka is distilled in a column still, the most common method in the world for making large production vodka, per Decanter.  A fifth distillation follows in a traditional pot still, per Ciroc, noting this fifth step is what sets the brand apart from every other vodka on the market. 

Though the vodka can be enjoyed on its own, its an ideal addition to a White Russian. While mixing, opt for using coconut milk or indulgent cream of coconut for the ultimate trip to the tropics.