THE DRINK – Cocktails as simple as coffee

By Eleni Upah and Meghan Johnson

There’s a long list of coffee-inspired cocktails, but none more traditional than the classic Black Russian. Finding its roots back in Brussels in 1949, the Black Russian brings together two common favorites: coffee and liquor. It keeps the essence of coffee’s simplistic nature by using only two ingredients, yet there are many variations.

The Black Russian is a simplistic drink by nature, made with two main ingredients of vodka and coffee liqueur.

The Black Russian is a simplistic drink by nature, made with two main ingredients of vodka and coffee liqueur.

The original concoction, created by a Belgian barman named Gustave Tops, consists only of vodka and coffee liqueur, typically Kahlua. Other versions might be served with cola, a shot of Triple Sec or even Jägermeister. But the original was simple by nature and an ode to its namesake country.

With more than 50 types of vodka from Russia and around the world, Irina’s Restaurant and Bar is more than prepared to whip up any variation of this classic Russian cocktail.

Irina’s opened in Des Moines about nine years ago as a typical bar. Then, owners Dmitri Iakovlev and Irina Khartchenko decided to turn it into the biggest vodka bar in Iowa. Now, Irina’s features a full bar of vodkas, rums, wines, beers and homemade infused vodkas.

Both owners grew up in Sochi, Russia, but moved to Iowa years ago. The restaurant offers a Russian-American menu, featuring anything as Russian as Baltika (Russia’s most popular exported beer) and working with local farmers and brewers to feature local drinks, meats and herbs.

Half and Half, Kahula and Russian Standard Black Vodka are the choice ingredients for a Black Russian at Irina’s. The drink is served over ice, but it’s not shaken. It is simple, and it is familiar. In return, Iakovlev says that makes it easier to sell.

“The Black Russian is a dessert drink; most order it after dinner. That, or a White Russian,” said Iakovlev. White Russians are similar cocktails, but are typically sweeter and made with cream.

Coffee has become a staple in most people’s morning routines, but coffee-inspired cocktails are more of a unique treat for the after-dinner crowd.

“It’s special, it’s different from other drinks and not what many people do,” said Iakovlev. RELISH


Categories: The Drink


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