The Moscow Mule is a cocktail that has been around for decades, but it has recently seen an upswing in popularity. It is one of the most significant cocktail trends of the past few years, and it's easy to see why -- simple, delicious and served in a beautiful, highly recognizable copper mug, the Moscow Mule is exciting without being over-the-top. Making a Moscow Mule is deceptively easy; just invest in the copper mugs to impress your friends at your next party.
A Moscow Mule is a very simple cocktail made of vodka, ginger beer and lime juice, and it is traditionally served in a copper mug. Surprisingly, it is not a Russian cocktail -- it's entirely American, although that is the only thing about its history we know as fact. Several competing stories exist claiming the origin of the Moscow Mule, but a common narrative involves John Gilbert Martin, the owner of Smirnoff vodka, and ginger beer manufacturer John Morgan coming together to mix their two products to boost sales.
In another version of the story, the drink is invented in Morgan's bar, the Cock'n Bull in Hollywood, which was an English-style tavern that served its beer in copper mugs. The transition to the drink being served in a copper mug makes sense in this context, as does the fact that the first mention of the drink in 1942 referenced it being a new craze amongst the Hollywood movie crowd. However, Morgan claims he and Martin invented the drink in 1941 at the New York Cheltenham Hotel. Morgan's head bartender, Eric Felten, tells it differently. He claimed that he was the one who invented the drink, to shift some stock.
No matter the story, it's clear the primary drive behind creating the Moscow Mule was finding a way to sell vodka and ginger beer, neither of which were selling particularly well at the time. Vodka, in particular, was having difficulty becoming popular in America after being imported from Russia, and the popularization of the Moscow Mule is attributed with vodka's success in America in the early 20th century.
The Moscow Mule is one of the most straightforward cocktails to assemble. No cocktail mixer, no blender, no fancy ingredients: just mix everything in a glass and drink up. The copper mug is what makes it iconic, so make sure you buy a set of those before serving your Moscow Mules. If you don't have a copper mug, a simple Collins glass is your best alternative.
The Moscow Mule is very straightforward, which makes it easy to experiment with. If you want something different out of your Mule, try one of these variations:
Just as a Kentucky Mule substitutes bourbon, a Mexican Mule swaps the vodka for tequila. The classic pairing of tequila and lime, with the added kick of the ginger beer, makes for a great refreshing cocktail for a hot day.
This variation adds blueberries, mint and cucumber for a wonderfully fresh cocktail. It requires a bit more work than a regular mule (you need to muddle the ingredients first), but the beautiful, colorful and sweet result is definitely worth the extra effort.
While most Moscow Mule recipes are ideal for summer, this one works great for the autumn and winter months. The addition of an easy-to-make spiced simple syrup and apple cider gives the drink a warm, autumnal flavor.
For when you want a Moscow Mule, but don't want the high levels of sugar from the ginger beer. This low-cal option uses fresh ginger and soda water instead, creating a drink that might be less sweet, but is just as flavorful.
Because a Moscow Mule is overwhelmingly simplistic with only three ingredients, each element should be high-quality for it to taste great. Use a high-quality vodka and avoid reaching for the cheaper varieties. You want something neutral with not a lot of burn that won't get lost entirely in the ginger beer. Amongst the popular brand names, Smirnoff and Stoli are both excellent options, but for the best results try reaching for a unique top-shelf spirit such as Crystal Head Vodka Aurora.
When it comes to the ginger beer, you need something fairly spicy that embraces a strong ginger flavor. Some ginger beers are too sweet and too similar to a regular soda, while others are so spicy that they overpower anything they are mixed with. Try Cock'n Bull, Fever Tree or Fentimans Botanically Brewed ginger beers.
The lime, of course, does not need to be anything special. However, if you are extracting the juice from a fruit and not a bottle, you want a ripe fruit that will yield a good amount of juice. The best way to check limes for ripeness is to squeeze them gently. The best ones will have some give and feel soft. Be sure to roll your limes on a cutting board with the palm of your hand before cutting and juicing them, as this will loosen up its membranes and allow you to extract as much juice as possible.
As for the mug, which is the most iconic feature of the cocktail, avoid using a solid copper mug. Although these are prettier and more authentic, consuming food and drinks from copper vessels can be dangerous and potentially poisonous. Buy a set of mugs that are lined on the inside and rim with another metal, such as nickel or stainless steel.