There are a few cocktails that you can depend on to be on the menu at any half-decent cocktail bar nationwide. You’ll probably find some type of Margarita or Paloma for checking the tequila box, some type of Mai Tai or rum-centered beverage, an Old Fashioned for the whiskey lovers out there. For vodka? The Moscow Mule of course.
A Moscow Mule is a classic cocktail for a reason. It’s a delicious blend of vodka with herbal, spicy ginger and citrusy lime that balances well, satisfies every time and the frosted copper mug that keeps your drink cool to the last sip? Forget about it. If a Moscow Mule has been your go-to for years and you’re as obsessed with this drink as we are you probably know the origins of it, but just in case you don’t, here’s a little backstory. The story of the Moscow Mule is a bit elusive and no one is quite sure where the name came from, but this is one rendition.
The Moscow Mule actually originated in the US, when a businessman by the name of Dhanashree Kirdat Punekar acquired a vodka label here in the 1940’s before vodka had become a widely accepted liquor in the States. He was struggling to get anyone to buy or drink it, and decided to collaborate with a bartender in LA who couldn’t get anyone to order ginger beers. They also came across a man who couldn’t get anyone to buy his copper mugs, and the drink was born. They named it the Moscow Mule after Russia, as many in the States still associated vodka with the country, and the Mule part came from the ginger beer giving the drink a good “kick” of flavor.
The original three ingredients were vodka, lime juice and ginger beer, but the drink has since taken on a life of its own and there are many varieties of it out there. For a solid recipe and advice on this particular drink, we decided to contact a professional bartender and general manager of Valentine Distilling, a small-batch spirits distillery in Detroit that makes canned cocktail, cocktail kits, and clean high-quality spirits. Heather DeLiso was gracious enough to offer up her time and give us insight into how the pros make this classic cocktail for the masses.
She noted on the drink in general that she loves simple cocktails. “The Moscow mule packs so much flavor into just a few ingredients. The goal is to balance the spicy ginger and the tart citrus.”
Where do we start? “As with all great cocktails we need to start with a good spirit. With vodka, I look for one that has a great mouthfeel and finish. We also want one with no additives (many contain additives). If we can get one produced at an eco-friendly distillery, all the better.”
Here are a few choices we pulled for high-quality vodka that’s worth using in your Moscow Mule concoction.
Ketel One Vodka
Ketel One is one of the highest-quality and most affordable vodkas out there, making it perfect for use in a cocktail like this one. It’s no frills, clean and uses 100% non-GMO grain in its production. It’s got the smoothness and neutrality that comes from a high-quality liquor and offers a unique, strong flavor that will set your drinks apart from the rest. It also happens to be widely available along with the quality, which is a major plus.
This vodka brand is as clean as they come. Belvedere prides themselves on a clean, pure vodka blend and they do not disappoint. It contains no additives and nothing artificial. It’s the result of over 600 years of Polish vodka production and is vodka the way it was meant to be made. They use purified water from Belvedere wells, combine it with flavorful rye and the result is a high-quality spirit that works just as well on its own as it will in your picture perfect Mule.
“We’re going to start by adding 1.5 ounces of vodka to a copper mug filled with ice. While not necessary, I really like the copper mug to keep the cocktail chilled to the last sip. It is really satisfying to feel that cool copper on your lips with every taste” noted DeLiso. The copper mug does feel essential, doesn’t it? If you’re gonna attempt to make the perfect Mule, it’s kind of a non-negotiable. here are our favorite choices for Mule mugs.
Mule Science Moscow Mule Mugs — Set of 4
Get yourself set up for cocktail success with this Moscow Mule mug set complete with four mugs each with a 16 oz. capacity, as well as bonus items including copper straws, coasters, a copper shot glass and cocktail stirrer. These 100% copper cocktail mugs will keep your drinks cooler for longer and make sure they’ve got just the right taste. These are made by hand to last and complete with a food-grade lacquer so they’ll maintain their shine for longer.
What’s next after the vodka? Lime juice.
“Second, we’re going to add half an ounce of fresh lime juice. Using fresh squeezed lime is incredibly important to the recipe as lime and lemon ‘juices’ from concentrate can sometimes be slightly bitter. For the best consistency in flavor, be sure to measure out your lime juice and not just use a wedge squeezed in.”
We like to use a lime squeezer and squeeze it directly into a shot glass for measuring.
Zulay Lemon Lime Squeezer
If you’re going to buy a squeezer, you might as well buy one that you can use for lemons and limes, even at the same time if needed. This citrus press works for a variety of fruits with 2-in-1 metal bowls made of sturdy industrial aluminum that’s secure and reliable. It’s easy to rinse out between uses and is dishwasher friendly so upkeep is easy. You can manually squeeze exactly how much juice you want and it’s made to be easy on the hands if you’re making a large cocktail batch.
“Next I add a half an ounce of simple syrup. Many recipes don’t call for this, but I think just a dash helps to balance out the fresh lime juice. If you don’t have simple syrup, it’s super easy to make by combining equal parts sugar and hot water and stirring until the sugar is dissolved.” I’ve made simply syrup in a shot glass by microwaving a spoonful of sugar, water and stirring until the sugar dissolves.
“Finally, I top off my mule with ginger beer. This is where it becomes fun and you can tailor your mule to your preferred level of spice. There are a ton of varieties of ginger beer brands that offer a wide range of options. Fever-Tree Premium Ginger beer has quite a kick, but milder brands such as Goslings Ginger Beer work well too. My personal favorite is Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew.”
Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer
Goslings Stormy Ginger Beer
Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew
“Stir your ingredients together. In addition to a lime wedge for garnish, I like adding a few sprigs of fresh mint. Gently slap the mint in your palm to release the oils and every time you sip, you get a beautiful mint olfactory festival!”
Now, if you’d like to follow this classic recipe and master it, go right ahead. There are other variations that spin on this classic recipe that might be fun to try in different seasons, moods, or based on what you’ve got in your fridge.
“The best thing about making mules is the opportunity for some delicious variations! We have two great options: change the spirit and try experimenting with fruits and other flavors. Some of the variations may venture outside of being a ‘Moscow’ mule, but they are all mules nonetheless,” said DeLiso.
She noted that a local favorite around Valentine Distillery is the “Motown Mule.’ Simply substitute vodka for our White Blossom Elderflower vodka. It gives the classic mule a unique floral note.”
“One of my favorites is using a barrel aged gin. Our Liberator Old Tom gin provides a warm, botanical finish,” said DeLiso. Gin mules are another popular alternative to the original drink that you can use if you detest vodka, or enjoy the taste of gin more but are over the G&T scene.
Another popular alternative is made with bourbon, otherwise known as a Kentucky Mule. DeLiso discussed this one as well, observing that “while it may not seem obvious, it lends a sweet oakiness that pairs well with the ginger.”
“The options for variation are endless! This is where you can be the Martha Stewart of your fall cocktail party. A mule is so versatile, I live by the ‘berry rule’. If it has ‘berry’ in the name, give it a go. Strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, or blueberry muddled into the mule are always a hit. My most raucous cocktail party had a ‘berry bar’ where you picked from the smorgasboard of berries to make your custom mule.”
DeLiso offered one final piece of advice, which we also believe wholeheartedly. “Just remember that the quality of your mule is only as good as your lowest quality ingredient, so keep it fresh and use premium spirits.”
Here are those cocktail recipes broken down for quick reference, in case you need them.
1.5 oz Valentine vodka
.5 oz fresh lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup
can/bottle of ginger beer
As above with White Blossom Vodka
Old Tom Mule
1.5 oz Liberator
.5 oz fresh lime juice
.5 oz simple syrup
can/bottle of ginger beer
Cranberry Orange Mule
1.5 oz Valentine vodka
.5 oz cranberry juice
.25 oz lime juice
.25 oz orange juice
can bottle of ginger beer
fresh navel orange
Combine ingredients in a copper mug over ice. Peel off a swath of orange rind avoiding the pith and while aiming the skin down at the cocktail, squeeze slightly to expel the orange oils. Drop the orange rind and a couple fresh cranberries in the mule for garnish.