January 31, 2023

A Horse, a Donkey, and a Communist

Admittedly, I am not much of a cocktail drinker. My beverage preferences are heavily skewed to the fermented variety versus the distilled, and most mixed drinks tend to be a bit on the sweet side for my palate. Margaritas, for the most part, are the only cocktail I’ve ever really cared for. Recently though, I was introduced to an old cocktail that has become trendy once again, and when the heat’s coming on, it’s one that gives a refreshing option for the mixed drink aficionados out there. It’s called a Moscow Mule.

The origins of the cocktail date back to 1941 with the collaboration of a spirits and food distributor named G.F. Heublein Brothers, Inc. and a food production company named Cock n’ Bull Products. The story involved three men from the two companies enjoying a few hors d’oeuvres and drinks at the Chatham Bar in Manhattan. The men were John G. Martin, President of G.F. Heublein Brothers; Rudolph Kunett, the head of Heublein’s vodka division; and John “Jack” Morgan, the President of Cock n’ Bull Products and owner of the Cock n’ Bull Tavern on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Martin and Kunett were debating the future of their vodka, while Morgan was in the process of shipping a rail car of his new ginger beer over the Plains to New York. As the men met and became friendly with each other in the bar, they decided to see what would happen if they joined Martin’s vodka and Morgan’s ginger beer with a little lime juice. After about four or five drinks worth they’d dubbed the cocktail the Moscow Mule.

While it didn’t enjoy extensive success on the East Coast, it did become a rage in Hollywood and the entertainment circle in the early 1940s. The cocktail is in the basic class of what are known as “bucks” or “mules.” These cocktails are all combinations of ginger beer or ginger ale, citrus juice, and a base liquor.

There are several different recipes available for the cocktail, but the classic one is:

The Moscow Mule

2 oz. of vodka
1 oz. of lime juice
3 oz. of ginger beer

The name “Moscow” came into play because of vodka’s perception as a Russian spirit. Some variations of the cocktail involve the addition of bitters, or substituting Jägermeister for vodka to make a Jäger Mule. By tradition, the cocktail is typically served on the rocks in a copper mug.

I was recently able to try this cocktail and will share my thoughts with you. Firstly, the dominant flavor of the cocktail is ginger due to the fact that ginger beer is typically a very strong ginger-flavored beverage. You’ll have some difference in taste depending on which ginger beer you use in the mix, and how much of it you use relative to the other ingredients.

The two beers I was able to sample were Gosling’s Dark and Stormy Ginger Beer, and Fever Tree Ginger Beer. The Gosling’s was a little more light flavored with a good balance, while the Fever Tree was very intensely ginger. Both, though, were crisp and refreshing cocktails.

If you want to tone down the intensity of the ginger, up the amount of lime juice in the cocktail or if the intensity of ginger beer is simply too much, try it with ginger ale instead (just don’t tell the purists, as they’ll argue with you for hours that you’re not really drinking a Moscow Mule).

I’d recommend this cocktail on a hot summer day or when eating light fare. It would go particularly well with white fish dishes or sushi. The Moscow Mule has returned to favor of late in the cycle of trendy cocktails. Just as was in its heyday in 1940s, the epicenter of its preference is southern California, mostly in the heart of the San Diego and Los Angeles club scene. There are a handful of bars in the downtown and Scottsdale area of Arizona that have gone all in and stocked up on a few copper mugs, but otherwise expect to be served this in a highball glass if you order in the local market. If you’ve never tried it though, it’s worth kicking the tires when the weather warms up to add something new to your repertoire.

Drink responsibly.


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