Simple and refreshing, the Moscow Mule has endured a lasting success as one of the more popular cocktails of the past half century. It is most commonly associated with its trademark vessel—a lustered copper mug—required for proper presentation. But it’s what’s on the inside that counts, of course. In the case of the Mule, that means a sturdy vodka, spicy ginger beer, fresh lime and crushed ice. Within that straightforward construction, however, is an endless array of artful permutations. Never more so than now, as the drink enjoys something of a contemporary revival amongst craft enthusiasts. Are you ready to take a ride?
The origin of the Moscow Mule is commonly traced back to the Cock ’n’ Bull restaurant in 1940s Hollywood. It was there that the president of Smirnoff Vodka sat down with the bar’s owner and longtime friend, who also happened to bottle ginger beer in town. Both men were lamenting struggling sales of their respective products. That’s when inspiration struck: why not combine forces to form a singular potent, potable? The rest, as they say, is history.
Smirnoff Mule / Photo Credit: Smirnoff
The Los Angeles bar scene remains proud of its connection to the Mule, evidenced by an abundance of copper mugs crowding back bars from Santa Monica to San Fernando. Being a city of artisans, many outposts infuse the native drink with their own DIY flair.
TWISTS ON THE MULE
At Neighbor, for example, the Venice hotspot imprints its signature in the form of a house-made ginger spirit and a heavier pour of spirit topped with Angostura bitters. The result is a food-friendly enhanced elixir, ready to pair alongside the restaurant’s trademark dish: a full-flavored lamb saddle.
Tumeric Mule / Photo Credit: Gratitude
Further inland, beverage manager Jon Eiswerth is getting healthy with his menu, offering a 100% organic bar program Gratitude in Beverly Hills. Here you’ll find the Turmeric Mule, which throws off the traditional arrangement with the addition of cold-pressed turmeric, essential oil of black pepper, and freshly-harvested mint. It’s an invigorating variation, introducing an exotic mouthfeel and finish, but ceding nothing to diminished refreshment.
The Mule has traveled far and wide from its birthplace. At Avelina in the hip, LoDo neighborhood of Denver, it competes with one of the city’s more elaborate Bloody Mary stations to remain a staple of the weekend brunch menu. And why shouldn’t it? Effervescent, quaffable, with minimal booziness to speak of, it embodies the essential elements of proper day drinking.
UPGRADE YOUR VODKA
While vodka typically takes a backseat to ginger when riding the Mule, it can easily move to shotgun. Rather than relying on the well, introduce a more thoughtful bottling to the fray. Absolut Elyx is always a prime candidate. Built of winter wheat, it offers a lush, creamier mouthfeel worthy of the moderate upcharge. Ketel One imbues much of the same. At the Lanai Bar in Hyatt Centric’s Waikiki Beach property, the luxury Dutch vodka is featured with fresh fruit puree in an elegantly executed Strawberry Mule. So alluring is the assembly that it holds on to best seller status in the land of Mai Tai.
A raspberry mule / Photo Credit: Absolut Elyx
On the east coast, one of New York’s hippest fast casuals has built a cult following around its Mule rendition. The secret to the Meatball Shop’s success has always been simplicity—partnered with quality ingredients. In their signature $11 cocktail, this finds its footing in the form of Reyka; the world’s first “green vodka” out of Iceland. Born of geothermal energy, and filtered thru lava rock, it holds a luxe body virtually unmatched at its price point.
DO TRY THIS AT HOME
With its basic build and crowd-pleasing flavors, the Mule makes an ideal party favor. If you want to experiment at home, consider a new import from an area typically associated with far darker spirits. Straw Boys Irish Vodka has a rich mouthfeel and a slightly botanical finish, making the $20 bottle a sensible suitor for an adequately spiced ginger beer.
As for the latter, Fever Tree has cemented its reputation as the industry standard, but it comes at a premium. For comparable quality at a more affordable cost, Q Mixers can’t be beat. It’s drier and higher in carbonation than most of its competitors in the category. But the real beauty of the Moscow Mule is that there are just so many ways to make it work. So saddle up and take it for a spin. Who knows where you’ll end up.
Now it’s time find the perfect vodka for your Mule!