“The Indispensables” is Liquor.com’s series devoted to the classic cocktails drinkers of every skill need in their arsenal. Each installment features one signature recipe, assembled from intel by the best bartenders. “The Indispensables” may not save the world, but it’ll surely rescue your cocktail hour.
The Moscow Mule should have died out ages ago. It has no pre-Prohibition era shimmer, no associations with literary icons during this drink’s short (by cocktail standards) history.
The Moscow Mule was born in Los Angeles during the 1940s and took root as part of a marketing campaign by a fledgling vodka company.
Yet despite these modest beginnings, the drink has survived, even flourished—with even the most trendsetting bartenders embracing the dead simple formula.
Eric Alperin stays true to the original recipe of Russian vodka, lime juice and ginger beer, served in a copper mug. Because his bars, The Varnish and Cole’s, are located blocks from the birthplace of the drink, Alperin’s traditional approach is an homage to his location’s history.
Other bartenders haven’t been able to resist riding the Mule in a different direction. Jim Meehan swapped out vodka for mezcal at PDT, a move that was then mimicked across the country. Bar manager Bill Anderson of Paul Virant’s Vie in Western Springs, Illinois, infuses his vodka with Honeycrisp apple and dill before mixing it with other elements.
The mule is categorically defined by the presence of ginger, so most suggestions for a proper mule start at the (ginger) root. Bartenders across the U.S. pointed in the direction of ginger beers with high spice quotients, including Maine Root (suggested by Dane Nakamura of Range in Washington, D.C.) and Blenheim’s (the favorite of Bryan Schneider of General Assembly in New York).
In the end, however, in creating the ideal Moscow Mule recipe, we took the lead of several enterprising bars that make their own ginger syrups—a simple way to become masters of our mules. The inimitable bite of fresh ginger juice is the x axis of refreshment, and is worth the hassle.
Intersecting on the y axis is temperature: A proper mule ought to be arctic-cold, every sip wielding the power of a blast chiller. The characteristic copper mug helps achieve this goal; so does the combination of cubed and crushed ice, a move we borrowed from Cooper Gillespie of the Thirsty Crow in Los Angeles.
Despite its humble origins, this mule can carry its weight.