Is there anything more perfect than a cold Moscow Mule on a sweltering summer day? That ideal combination of smooth vodka, tangy lime juice, and spicy ginger beer makes for a cooling and refreshing sip that has drinkers coming back again and again.
This classic recipe has certainly withstood the test of time, no matter which origin story you believe. One such story claims the cocktail was invented in Manhattan in 1941 by a trio of men who were drinking together at the Chatham Hotel. This group included Jack Morgan, a maker of ginger beer and a restaurateur; John G. Martin, the head of a liquor distributing company; and Rudolph Kunett, the president of Smirnoff Vodka. According to the legend, the cocktail was thrown together on a whim and christened the Moscow Mule a few days later.
This tale was largely thought to be the truth until 2007, when an article in the Wall Street Journal proposed a new origin story. According to author Eric Felten, it was bartender Wes Price, the head of Jack Morgan’s Los Angeles restaurant, who gave birth to the drink out of a need to clear out the cellar. Quoting Price himself, Felten writes, “‘I just wanted to clean out the basement,’ Price would say of creating the Moscow Mule. ‘I was trying to get rid of a lot of dead stock.’ The first one he mixed he served to the actor Broderick Crawford. ‘It caught on like wildfire,’ Price bragged.”
Regardless of which story you believe, the Moscow Mule has never gone out of style — in fact, its recipe has largely remained unchanged. While this speaks volumes to the drink’s staying power, it does mean the cocktail can run the risk of being a little played-out (dare we say it, even boring). Thankfully, the combination of spirit, citrus, and ginger beer is remarkably easy to riff on, be it by simply swapping out the base liquor or taking things to a slightly more elaborate (and elaborately delicious) place. No matter which variation you choose, it’s guaranteed to be just as refreshing as the original. Here are five of our favorites to help you cool off during these dog days of summer.
1. KENTUCKY MULE
A southern take on the classic, this recipe does nothing more than substitute the vodka for bourbon. The result is a slightly sweeter drink with an oaky flavor that shines through the ginger beer.
Ingredients: 2 ounces bourbon, 1/2 ounce lime juice, 4-6 ounces ginger beer
Directions: Add the bourbon and lime juice to a copper mug or collins glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge or sprig of mint.
2. OAXACAN MULE
While tequila would be an equally great addition to a mule, mezcal adds delicate and complex layers of smoke and earth to the flavor profile.
Ingredients: 2 ounces mezcal, 1/2 ounce lime juice, 4-6 ounces ginger beer
Directions: Add the mezcal and lime juice to a copper mug or collins glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge.
3. SPICY MOSCOW MULE
The Moscow Mule gets a zippy kick thanks to jalapeno peppers. While we’ll undoubtedly be reaching for this in the summer, the spiciness of the peppers and ginger would make this a perfectly warming sip in the winter.
Ingredients: 2 ounces vodka, 1 ounce lime juice, 1/2 ounce orange liqueur, 3-4 ounces ginger beer, jalapeno slices
Directions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, add the vodka, lime juice, orange liqueur, and 3 or 4 thin jalapeno slices. Shake to infuse the liquid with the jalapeno and strain into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a few jalapeno slices.
4. GARDEN MULE
Talk about summertime in a glass. This spectacular variation combines fresh blueberries, cucumber, and mint to create one of the most refreshing cocktails around.
Ingredients: 2 ounces vodka, 1 ounce lime juice, 4 ounces ginger beer, 12 blueberries, 4 slices cucumber, 6 mint leaves plus more for garnish
Directions: In a cocktail shaker, muddle the cucumber, mint leaves, and 8 of the blueberries until crushed and juicy. Add ice, vodka, and lime juice and shake for about 15 seconds. Strain into a copper mug or collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a sprig of mint and 4 blueberries.
5. GLASGOW MULE
Created by Damon Boelte of Brooklyn’s Prime Meats, the Glasgow Mule features the traditional citrus and ginger beer, while also adding smoky scotch, floral St. Germain, and aromatic bitters for a concoction that’s sophisticatedly layered and complex.
Ingredients: 1 1/2 ounces scotch, 3/4 ounce lemon juice, 1/2 ounce St. Germain, 4 ounces ginger beer, 1 dash Angostura bitters
Directions: Add all ingredients to a copper mug or collins glass filled with ice and stir to chill. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Ted Eytan