Although it is one of the most popular spirits in the world, there are not many classic vodka cocktails apart from variations on existing cocktails like the vodka gimlet or vodka martini. This may be the main reason that the Moscow Mule – invented in the 1940s – has swept through the drinking world like a brush fire. It gives vodka drinkers a seat at the craft cocktail table.
It doesn’t hurt that the drink is exceptionally easy to make – it’s essentially a gin & tonic made with vodka and ginger beer (or a Dark & Stormy with vodka) – and next to impossible not to guzzle down. And don’t ignore the copper mug, the Mule’s traditional serving vessel, which has become a sensation all its own and can now be found in almost any homeware boutique. Whether the mug makes much of a difference is another question. Personally, I think it makes the drink look and feel special, as all cocktails should. So if it elevates your enjoyment of the drink that much, absolutely get a set. If you’re just here for the ginger beer, you can skip it.
Classic Moscow Mule with Ginger Beer
2 ounces vodka
4-5 ounces ginger beer
Two lime wedges
In a rocks glass or copper mug, add the vodka and fill with ice. Squeeze in the juice of the two lime wedges and add the ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wheel and ginger candy (if you happen to have them on hand).
Ginger Beer is basically a spicier, more ginger-y style of ginger ale. Some early versions contained alcohol and a few still do, but for cocktail use it should be nonalcoholic. New brands are being released almost every day. My personal favorites are Fever Tree, Fentiman’s, Barritt’s, Regatta and Goslings.
Moscow Mule With Homemade Ginger Syrup
A more artisanal approach to the Moscow Mule is to make your own ginger syrup from scratch. This is very easy to do at home if you have a juice extractor, but without one it’s a bit of a trial. Regardless, both versions are excellent. In this recipe you’ll want to bump up the lime juice and top the drink off with soda water.
2 ounces vodka
Heavy ¾ oz ginger syrup
½ ounce fresh lime juice
Combine the vodka, ginger syrup and lime juice in a shaker. Fill with ice, shake for 6-8 seconds and strain into a rocks glass or copper mug over fresh ice. Squeeze in the lime wedge and top with 3-4 ounces of soda water.
¾ cup sugar
½ cup ginger juice - requires 3-4 pieces of ginger root
¼ cup water
Roughly peel the ginger and run it through a juice extractor. If you don’t have an extractor, grate the ginger, bundle it in cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice. In either case, be sure to strain the juice with a chinoise (a fine-meshed conical sieve).
Combine the sugar, ginger juice and water in a small pot over very low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Do not boil. Store in refrigerator.
Moscow Mule variations come fast and easy. Naturally, the easiest approach is to substitute a different base spirit for the vodka. Using bourbon makes it a Kentucky Mule, white Rum a Caribbean Mule, Gin a London Mule; you get the idea.
Taking things a step further, the Moscow Mule is also well suited for simple additions. Trying muddling in a few mint leaves, cucumber slices, a strawberry or anything you think will work with lime and ginger (hint: pretty much everything does). Or add ½ to ¾ of an ounce of your favorite fruit liqueur. St. Germain is always a safe bet. In the case of the latter, you may want to pull back on the ginger beer/syrup to balance out the sweetness.
If you would like to learn a little more about the Moscow Mule’s origin, please check it out on my site at www.socialhourcocktails.com/moscowmule.
CheeseSticks Pairing: Mules pair well with any of John Wm Macy’s savory CheeseSticks or CheeseCrisps. Cheddar Rosemary CheeseCrisps have a special attraction for me.
About the author
Tom Macy is on a personal mission to help us all make and drink better cocktails. His recently launched website, socialhourcocktails.com, is full of in-depth advice on cocktail recipes, techniques, tools and a whole lot more. He also teaches cocktail classes at the Brooklyn Kitchen and has dozens of cocktail videos on YouTube. He looks forward to connecting with CheeseSticks fans and offering his advice on constructing the perfect cocktail to go with "the perfect crunch!" Tom lives in Brooklyn with his wife Ellen and their two daughters, Willow and Violet.