How the Moscow mule and its many variations can take you from summer to fall
A traditional Moscow mule is just three ingredients — vodka, ginger beer and lime juice — poured over crushed ice, garnished with a lime wedge and, of course, served in a copper mug. But it’s also a cocktail that lends itself to countless variations, from the type of alcohol used to the different flavors added, whether you’re working with liqueurs, syrups or purees.
“It’s a very basic drink … but also a very versatile one that you can easily change up,” said Ron Pacheco, assistant general manager of The Foundry Restaurant in Manchester, which has dabbled in all kinds of seasonal mules on its cocktail menu over the years.
Local bar managers and mixologists discuss the unique spins they’ve made on this American bar staple (as it turns out, the Moscow mule was not actually invented in Moscow, nor does it have anything to do with mules) and give some recommendations for the best flavor pairings.
The classic mule
Even a mule’s most basic ingredients have many variations, depending on the brand of vodka or ginger beer used. Elissa Drift, a manager and bartender at Stella Blu in Nashua, said that Gosling’s brand ginger beer is among the most common in making mules.
“It’s a little bit more sweet and sugary … so people aren’t put off by the astringent ginger flavor,” she said, “but you can really use whatever version of ginger beer floats your boat.”
Sarah Maillet, who co-owns 815 Cocktails & Provisions in Manchester, said the mules you’ll find there use Maine Root ginger beer, a brand made with organic cane sugar. A couple of years ago, the downtown speakeasy-style bar also introduced a house Moscow mule recipe on draft.
The brand of vodka is also largely up to personal preference. Drift has used Ketel One and Celsius vodka, while at The Foundry, Pacheco said the No. 1 selling brand for mules is Tito’s. The ratio of vodka to lime juice in a mule will vary slightly depending on where you go.
“It’s always more ginger beer,” Pacheco said. “For us, you’re looking at typically an ounce and a half of vodka … to a half-ounce of lime juice, and then the rest is ginger beer.”
Drift said she likes to incorporate the vodka and the ginger beer into the cocktail at the same time to best combine them before adding the lime juice. A lime wedge is a very common garnish in classic mules, although you might see herbs like mint or basil used.
The origin of the Moscow mule is traced back to Hollywood, California, in the early 1940s. Cathy Dion of Martini’s Etc. Professional Bartending Services, based in Hooksett, said the drink was first known as a vodka buck. A “buck” is a more general term for a cocktail with ginger beer and a liquor, according to Jeff Eagen, a bartender at Earth Eagle Brewings in Portsmouth.
In his 2004 book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, author Ted Haigh writes that the Moscow mule is widely credited with popularizing the consumption of vodka in the United States. The story goes that the very first Moscow mule was created in 1941 at the Cock’n Bull Pub on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Jack Morgan, then the tavern’s owner, had been brewing his own ginger beer that wasn’t selling, according to Haigh.
Eventually, Morgan collaborated with John Martin, a regular at the Cock’n Bull who had recently acquired Smirnoff Vodka. The Moscow mule, Haigh writes, was created as a way for Morgan and Martin to do something with their excess ginger beer and vodka, respectively, both of which were not popular in America at the time. The drink soon gained popularity in the Los Angeles area and then spread to other parts of the country.
Dion, who specializes in private bartending for weddings and has travelled across New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, said she’s noticed a recent resurgence of Moscow mules.
“I would say that about five or six years ago people mostly did beer, wine and then your basics like vodka soda or gin and tonic,” she said. “The mule kind of came out of nowhere. But it’s definitely a classic wedding cocktail that’s very easy and refreshing. … A lot of people will say, ‘I had it at a wedding, and now I want to have it at my wedding.’”
Beyond the basics
The ginger beer, according to Pacheco, is the most fundamental ingredient found in any mule. But you can make all kinds of variations by swapping out the vodka for another type of alcohol.
If you’re using gin, for example, you’ll get a London mule, or if you’re using tequila, that will make a Mexican mule. Bourbon makes a Kentucky mule, while ginger beer with dark rum is known as a Dark ’n’ Stormy.
“Those are kind of the five general variations,” Pacheco said. “We use six different purees behind the bar, so we’ve done a blackberry Kentucky mule, with a blackberry puree, sugar, lemon juice and water. Last winter we ran a cranberry mule. … On our brunch menu, we do the Sunday morning mule, which is Stoli vodka with orange juice in it.”
Dion said she grows her own fresh herbs like basil and rosemary that she’ll sometimes use as garnishes for her mules, like a blackberry and basil mule.
“I would say it’s definitely more of a summer drink, but you add all kinds of things to sort of ‘fall’ it up, like cranberry or cinnamon sticks or whatever you want.”
Drift has made a Maine mule, which features Cold River blueberry vodka that’s muddled with a fresh blueberry puree and topped with blueberries for a garnish. Stella Blu has also done several types of mules on its cocktail menu, including a mint cucumber mule, a bing cherry puree mule, a London lime mule with Tanqueray Rangpur gin, fall-inspired mules with cider, and a honey mule with Jack Daniel’s honey whiskey and fresh-squeezed lemon.
Another honey-flavored mule can be found at the XO Bistro, on Elm Street in Manchester, known as the Bee Sting. Manager Steve Tosti said this drink features Jack Daniel’s whiskey, ginger beer and a splash of honey liqueur.
At Granite Tapas & Cocktail Lounge in Hooksett, co-owner Jamie Jordan said a Stoli salted caramel mule was recently introduced, featuring Stoli salted caramel vodka, apple cider, ginger beer and an infused simple syrup with cinnamon sticks, garnished with a caramel cinnamon rim.
One of Maillet’s favorites that has been featured at 815 is called the Nor’Easter mule. It swaps the vodka for whiskey and adds maple syrup with the lime and ginger beer. She said she’s also experimented with a Moscow mule ice cream float with vanilla ice cream, and is looking into crafting a mezcal mule with cinnamon and agave moving forward into the fall.
“The possibilities are literally endless,” she said. “You can essentially think of it as like a martini. … You have the classic cocktail and everything’s kind of derived from that.”
Featured Photo: Maine Mule from Stella Blu in Nashua. Courtesy photo.