Classic with Ginger Beer
2 oz vodka
chilled 4-5 oz 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 top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wheel and ginger candy (if you happen to have them on hand).
With Homemade Ginger Syrup
2 oz vodka
¾ oz ginger syrup
½ oz fresh lime juice
2 lime wedges
chilled soda water
Combine vodka, ginger syrup and lime juice in a shaker and squeeze in one of the limes wedges. Fill with ice, shake for 6-8 seconds and strain into a rocks glass or copper mug over fresh ice. Squeeze in the second lime wedge and top with 1½-2 ounces of soda water.
If you make a Moscow Mule, let me see!
Tag a photo with #socialhourcocktails on Instagram.
In the last decade, the Moscow Mule has swept through the drinking world like a brush fire. One reason for this is likely due to it being one of the few classic cocktails that is also vodka-based, giving vodka lovers a seat at the craft cocktail table. It also doesn’t hurt that the drink is very tasty and even easier to make. It’s basically a Gin & Tonic with vodka and ginger beer (or a Dark & Stormy with vodka) that is a refreshingly, fizzy blend of spice and citrus that is next to impossible to help guzzling down.
Many bars nowadays - including Clover Club where I work - have taken to making their own ginger beer or ginger syrup to use in their mules, rather than using a commercial product. 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.
Of course, we can't ignore the copper mug, which is the vessel it's traditionally served in, and perhaps most deserving of credit for the Moscow Mule’s resurgence. Indeed, they look very cool (though the drink will still be just a as good without them).
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 non-alcoholic. There are more and more brands being released every day. My personal favorites are Fever Tree, Fentiman’s, Barritt’s, Regatta and Goslings.
Copper Mug - Does it Matter?
As I alluded to above, the copper mug has become a sensation of its own. You can now find them at almost any kitchen store or homeware boutique looking to lure shoppers. But does it really make a difference? The answer is a classic case of "the drink vs. the show". In the glass, no, I don't think it really matters. Despite these "science based" articles claiming factors like copper oxidation and TDS measurements actually improve the flavor of the drink. Please. It will come as no surprise that the sites these articles are on are also selling copper mugs. I'll give you that copper gets colder than glass a typical glass, but if that really made the drink so much better wouldn’t we be drinking all of our cocktails out of metal-ware?
The real benefit of the copper mug is it makes the drink look and feel special, as all cocktails should. So it depends on your perspective. If it elevates your enjoyment of the drink that much, then absolutely get a set. If you’re just here for the ginger beer, you can skip it.
Moscow Mule variations come fast and easy. These days it seems like any drink topped with ginger beer is categorically considered a mule (concurrently, a cocktail topped with ginger ale is traditionally known as “buck”). Naturally, the easiest Mule variations simply use a different base spirit. You can use either of the above recipes - with store-bought or homemade ginger beer - as a template. Here are a few examples:
¾ cup sugar
½ cup ginger juice - need 3-4 pieces of ginger root
¼ cup water
Make the Juice - 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 using a chinois.
Make the Syrup - 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.
Use white rum in place of vodka
(with aged rum it’s a Dark & Stormy).
Use gin in place of vodka.
Use cachaça in place of vodka.
Or Break Out the Muddler
Taking things a step further, the Moscow Mule is also well suited for additions. Trying mudding 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 this case you may want to pull back on the ginger/sweetness.
Use bourbon in place of vodka.
Use blanco tequila in place of vodka.
Use mezcal in place of vodka.
Gin Gin Mule
Created by Audrey Saunders’, one of the owner’s of Pegu Club (Julie Reiner, my partner, and mentor at Clover Club, is another one of the partners) this Moscow Mule variation is often cited as a landmark of the modern mixology movement. Broadly speaking, it is simply a mule with gin and muddled mint, though her recipe exclusively called for fresh lime juice and housemade ginger beer - which was somewhat like a strong ginger tea - both of which at the time were revelatory at the time. This recipe uses my ginger syrup recipe from above:
2 oz gin
1 oz ginger syrup
¾ oz fresh lime juice
8-10 mint leaves
mint sprig and lime wheel for garnish (optional)
In a shaker, muddle the mint in ginger syrup, add remaining ingredients except for soda water, fill with ice, shake and strain into a highball glass or copper mug over fresh ice. Top with 1-2 ounces of soda water. Garnish with a mint sprig and lime wheel.
Who Invented the Moscow Mule? As Usual, We’re Not Sure.
The most circulated story of how the Moscow Mule came to be is one of the better bar anecdotes around. If only it were true. It revolves around a fateful 1940s meeting at the Cock’n’Bull Pub in Hollywood between three businessmen/women each of whom was in possession of a fledgling product. It generally goes like this:
Martin, Morgan and Schmidt
John G. Martin, president of G.F. Heublein & Brothers - a major spirits and food distributor, had bought the U.S. rights to the vodka brand Smirnoff in 1939 from Rudolph Kunett. This was a risk, as vodka was not very popular in the United States at this point and, indeed it was an uphill climb. Jack Morgan, the owner of Cock’n’Bull, also produced Cock’n’Bull Ginger Beer which was similarly dead in the water. As Martin puts it in a later interview, people “preferred ginger ale.” Ozaline Schmidt, Morgan’s girlfriend, had inherited a copper mine from her father and, you guessed it, had a surplus of copper mugs that she didn't know what to do with.
It’s not hard to fill in the rest. One day the three got together and over a few drinks, while bemoaning their sluggish sales hatched a plan to put their lemons together to make a boozy gingery lemonade (or rather limeade) and serve it in a copper mug. As luck would have it, the drink caught on and the rest is history. You can see an old video of John Martin telling this version story here. Here also remembers Rudolph Kunett, Smirnoff’s former owner, being at the table.
Now let the fact-checking begin.
The Moscow Copper Company of Santa Barbara, which manufactures copper mugs, has a slightly different version of this yarn. They maintain that the woman who provided the copper mugs was not Ms. Schimdt, but Sophie Berezinski, the industrious grandmother of Moscow Copper Co.’s owner, J.J. Resnick. In this account Ms. Berezinski, desperate to find an outlet for her oversupply of 2,000 copper mugs, which was also supposedly the result of an inheritance, happened to be at the right place at the right time when she happened upon Martin and Morgan chatting at Cock’n’Bull about their vodka/ginger beer problems and provided them with a solution. I haven’t found any other verification of this story, though it is all laid out with dramatic flourish in a video on the company’s website. They even proclaim to have the first Moscow Mule mug in their possession.
No wait, Price
Then there’s also a wholly alternative account which is far less interesting and far more logical. Wes Price, the Bar Manager at Cock’n’Bull, says he created the Moscow Mule and that the mother of his invention was necessity. As he is quoted in the Wall Street Journal in 2007, “I was just trying to clean out the basement,… I was trying to get rid of a lot of dead stock.” It makes sense. Neither vodka or ginger beer were popular and Cock’n’Bull certainly would have had both on hand, so he combined them to kill two birds with one stone.
This combination would not have been a stretch. In fact, there’s speculation - including from none other than David Wondrich - that the Moscow Mule is likely a direct take on a Mamie Taylor, which was a very popular cocktail at the time and has the exact same recipe only with blended scotch as the base.
Where does the copper mug comes into this version? Cocktail historian George Sinclair has an idea. The Cock‘n’Bull was a British-themed tavern, and would have traditionally served their draft beers in such vessels. It was likely a gimmick that worked.
As for the origin of the name, none of the stories really weigh in, only glossing over it to say it had something to do with the drink's "kick".
Eh, it's a Good Drink Anyway.
So this much we know: the Moscow Mule became popular in Hollywood in the 1940s, Cock’n’Bull ginger beer was used and John Martin did a bang up job of marketing it. It was the first big vodka cocktail and it remained popular through the early 1960s before fading - it’s affiliation with Russia didn’t help - but vodka never looked back.
In the end, this is a story of a business problem and a successful marketing solution. And whether it was Martin, Morgan, Price, Mamie or some unknown character in the shadows of cocktail history, I think you can agree, we all benefited in the end.