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As drinks historian Ted Haigh tells the story in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, the Moscow Mule was invented in the 1940s by Smirnoff executive John Martin and his pal, John Morgan, owner of Los Angeles' Cock and Bull Tavern. Martin, whose company, Heublein, had recently acquired the brand, found himself with vodka to sell, and Morgan had ginger beer he couldn't otherwise use. He also had a girlfriend who had inherited a factory for copper goods. Together, these elements—the vodka, the ginger beer, a copper cup, with some lime for good measure—became the drink that first popularized vodka in America.
So the cocktail is Russian in name alone. But that doesn't stop a great Russian-born pro like Slava Borisov of Chicago's Travelle at The Langham from advising home bartenders on the perfect version of the drink. He suggests "a good portion" of vodka and freshly squeezed lime juice topped with "an evenly spiced ginger beer like Fentiman's or Fever Tree." And though, nowadays, the elixir might come just as often in a highball glass, Borisov prefers his "exclusively in a copper cup to make sure the temperature stays as low as possible for as long as possible." Not only is the industrial metal a great conductor for the chill of the ice, but "serving a Moscow Mule as it is intended is a great ritual."
Picking the right vodka for this favorite drink can be overwhelming with the glut of brands on the market. With the help of industry experts, we've widdled down this list to our favorites. Here are the best vodkas for Moscow Mules to get right now.
Best Overall: Husky Vodka
- Region: Siberia
- ABV: 40%
- Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Anise, Minerals
"One of the most truly Siberian vodkas you could try," in Borisov's estimation, this bottle, named after the local dog breed, is produced in the city of Omsk, where the wheat in the distillate grows during the brief Siberian summer. The chilly Arctic spring water is fresh and crisp, and the low filtration temperatures simply freeze off unwanted flavors. "All these factors make it a perfect cocktail vodka," says Borisov. Clean and bright, with a touch of natural sweetness, it's his choice for ginger beer's partner in a Moscow Mule.
Read Next: The Best Russian Vodkas
Best Top Shelf: Absolut Elyx
- Region: Sweden
- ABV: 42.3%
- Tasting Notes: Malt, Citrus, Grass
Tony Abou-Ganim, mixologist and author of Vodka Distilled, calls this Swedish premium vodka made with single-estate winter wheat "beautiful when blended with highly carbonated soda," meaning it's a shoe-in for a Moscow Mule. With what he calls its "elegance" and "sharp brightness," it stands up to the strong flavors of the lime and ginger. Distilled in a vintage copper still, it's best served in copper as well. In a chilled Moscow Mule mug, its "velvety" texture enhances the mouthfeel of the drink.
Best Everyday: Stolichnaya Vodka
- Region: Latvia
- ABV: 40%
- Tasting Notes: Bread, Confectioner's Sugar, Citrus
"A great household brand that's terrific for mixed drinks" is how Anthony Baker, a veteran bartender of New York's The Aviary and The Grill, describes Stoli vodka. He loves it in a Moscow Mule because its citrus notes enhance the flavor of the fresh lime, its "oiliness and bready notes" add weight to the cocktail, and the finish "has somewhat of a bite" and augments the snap of the ginger beer.
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Best Budget: Smirnoff No. 21
- Region: USA
- ABV: 40%
- Tasting Notes: Grain, Mineral Water, Black Pepper
It might be cheap and ubiquitous, but the original vodka of the Moscow Mule should not be dismissed. "It's big time but they keep up the quality," says Baker. Tripled distilled and filtered a whopping ten times, it's "nice and clean, with no off notes on the back of your tongue." The subtle peppery character enhances the spice of the ginger beer and in the end, there's something to be said for keeping up the tradition.
Best American: Tito’s
- Region: Texas
- ABV: 40%
- Tasting Notes: Roasted Corn, White Pepper, Smoke
Made from corn for a deep, earthy flavor, this Austin-based vodka, Baker notes, "has a buttery character." It's long been a lush favorite of Abou-Ganim's. “There’s a grainy sweetness to it,” he says. “It always reminds me of my Great Aunt Dort’s cornbread that we’d wash down with Verner’s Ginger Ale at family dinners on Sundays.” In other words, it's a natural for a big, rich Moscow Mule.
Best Russian: Russian Standard Gold
- Region: Russia
- ABV: 40%
- Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Nuts, Lemon
The winter wheat from which it's distilled gives this vodka the "rich, creamy sweetness" and the "malty graininess" that pair "beautifully" with spicy-sweet ginger beer in a Moscow Mule, says Tony Abou-Ganim. But the secret ingredient that makes it a perfect cocktail vodka is Siberian golden root. Mix it up and chill.
Read Next: The Best Vodkas
Best Flavored: Belvedere Ginger Zest
- Region: Poland
- ABV: 40%
- Tasting Notes: Ginger, Lemon, Grapefruit
When it comes to flavored vodkas, Abou-Ganim suggests this one for a Moscow Mule, noting the way "the sharpness of the ginger and the pronounced lemon notes" in its infusion play perfectly with the spice of the cocktail's signature root and the brightness of its lime. But if all that sounds too sharp for your tastes, be assured that its flavors are mellowed by a silky mouthfeel.
Best Craft: CH Vodka
- Region: Chicago
- ABV: 40%
- Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Pepper, Rye
Charles Joly, founder of Crafthouse Cocktails and a spirits tasting judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the Beverage Testing Institute’s International Review of Spirits Competition, uses this Chicago-based craft vodka in the Moscow Mule of his bottled drinks line, Crafthouse Cocktails. With a big, vanilla approach and spicy, pepper-forward finish, it's a vodka that accentuates the sweet kick of the copper-mug cocktail.
Best Organic: Humboldt Organic
- Region: California
- ABV: 40%
- Tasting Notes: Valencia Orange, Fresh Sugar Cane
A lush and citrusy spirit made from organic sugar cane and zero additives on the Northern California coast, this small-batch vodka brings out the best in the fresh lime juice of a Moscow Mule. Its natural grass and caramel notes play off the ginger in intriguing ways. Add a mint spring to the glass to accentuate the brisk freshness of the organic distillate.
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Best Innovative: Smoke Lab Aniseed
- Region: India
- ABV: 37.5%
- Tasting Notes: Aniseed, Cream, Fresh-baked Bread
This soft, subtle vodka produced in India from a base grain of basmati rice "gets along famously with a dry-style ginger beer or ale, a spot of lime juice balancing it," says Bar Back Collective's Arijit Bose. "The aniseed adds a nice, herbal depth and complexity to the humble yet delicious Moscow Mule."
Why Trust Liquor.com?
Betsy Andrews has been writing about wine and spirits for two decades. A long-time gin drinker, she first discovered how exciting vodka can be back in 2012 when she was working at Saveur magazine and edited a story on new American craft vodkas. Her favorite way to drink vodka is in a Salty Dog, with fresh grapefruit juice in an iced highball glass with a salted rim.