The White Russian doesn't look very pleasing because it's made with Kahlúa, vodka, and cream shaken together with bad ice. This results in dirty-looking water and a watered down drink. The key to rehabilitating the White Russian is updating the ingredients and holding it to the same standards of presentation as any other classic cocktail.
The White Russian is a strong, bitter drink that is best served in a small rocks glass over ice. You can take the muddling out of the equation by preparing it with crushed ice or buy a good electric cocktail freezer and keep it in your home bar. If you're looking for something to serve at parties, this is it. The White Russian was first made in California during prohibition. It was created as a way to get around the law and make mixed drinks using spirits more palatable. The spirit of choice was vodka because it has less flavor than scotch and rum, which meant the taste could be masked by other ingredients more easily.
Kahlúa was added to give some sweetness along with cream so that it still had some body despite being served up rather than on the rocks or stirred into an Old Fashioned glass with ice cubes like most classic cocktails are presented today.
When mixed correctly, you should be able to taste all three elements: The bitterness from the coffee liqueur; sweetness from both chocolate liquor and cream; and smoothness from vodka's neutral notes on top of an undertone of spices usually associated with Kahlúa (cinnamon, vanilla).
This bitter-sweet concoction does not need any sugar added but if you do want to sweeten it up even further then consider using brown sugar syrup instead of regular simple syrup or mix one part simple syrup with one part rich demerara sugar for an extra caramel complexity that will add depth without being overly cloying as adding straight brown sugar would be (this recipe comes from renowned bartender Leo Robitschek).
Like most classic cocktails there are many variations available including switching out Kahlúa for a chocolate liquor such as Godiva Liqueur or Tia Maria; replacing vodka with gin or rum; serving on ice but don't shake like you normally would when making a martini otherwise you'll end up watering down your drink even further; serving garnished with cocoa powder (for presentation) or grated dark chocolate (to add another layer of flavor); adding coffee beans soaked in alcohol for two weeks before straining them out then reusing them again until they've lost their potency after about 10 uses — no waste!
What makes this cocktail particularly interesting is using white rum instead of vodka — think Mount Gay Eclipse White Rum from Barbados — but I wouldn't recommend doing this unless everyone who's drinking White Russians has built up quite the tolerance towards spirits because white rum packs quite a punch compared to vodka.
1½ oz. White Rum (recommended) or Vodka
½ oz. Aged Kahlúa
¾ oz. Heavy Whipping Cream
5-10 Whole Coffee Beans or ½ tsp ground coffee
In a shaker, combine the rum and Kahlúa with ice cubes, then shake vigorously for 20 seconds until frothy and chilled
Pour through a tea strainer into an Old Fashioned glass filled with crushed ice
Garnish with grated dark chocolate and/or a sprinkle of ground coffee powder on top