A “Moscow Mule” is a great tasting cocktail although it has nothing to do with Moscow or with mules. Traditionally, the mixed drink is made with vodka, ginger beer, a squirt of lime juice and it is served in a copper mug. Last summer, a friend introduced us to these cocktails. She even took the extra effort to make her own ginger beer and purchase copper mugs for serving the drink. Of course, I had to look up the history of these drinks and mix up one myself. I learned that there are plenty of ginger beer brands for sale in retail stores so you don’t need to make your own beer “from scratch.” And there are many variations to this cocktail. This year, I’m making a “Holiday Moscow Mule” with ginger beer, cranberry juice, Louisiana vodka and rosemary for garnish.
Origins of Moscow Mule Cocktail
There are several variations to the story of Moscow Mules; nevertheless it is an interesting one. It seems that back in the1940s the owner of Smirnoff vodka was sitting in a bar lamenting that his vodka was not selling well in the United States as it was not a popular liquor. The bar owner had crates of ginger beer in storage that he needed to get rid of. They made a mixed drink of the Smirnoff vodka and ginger beer plus a little lime, served it over ice and decided that it tasted pretty good. The bar owner’s girlfriend had copper mugs made by her father in Russia that she was trying to peddle and so that mug was used for serving the cocktails.
During this time period, the polaroid camera was becoming popular. The Smirnoff vodka owner proceeded to travel across the country stopping at bars and selling his vodka. He took two polaroid camera photos of the bartender holding a Moscow Mule. He left one photo with the bartender and took the other photo to the next stop to show how good the drink was. And so Smirnoff vodka and Moscow Mules were introduced and popularized in this country.
I also learned about ginger beer. Because it has a spicy “kick”, cocktails made of liquor and ginger beer are often termed “bucks” or mules. The name, ginger beer, is a bit deceptive as there is no alcohol in the “beer.” (However, ginger beer originated in the 1700’s in England where the beer contained a slight amount if alcohol.) Ginger beer is a carbonated beverage made by fermenting ginger, yeast and sugar. Then carbonation is added to the drink. In contrast, ginger ale is a ginger-flavored drink and does not contain fermented ginger. So, there are similarities with two beverages. Ginger beer is more robust and spicy.
There are many brands of ginger beer on the market. I am not a ginger beer connoisseur, so my friend, Bonnie, directed me to her favorite brand, “Reed’s” Craft Ginger Beer. Plus, the Barritts brand tasted good to me, too. Use your favorite brand in the cocktail.
For a Louisiana twist, I used vodka made from sugar cane and produced in this state rather than traditional Smirnoff vodka.
“Yellow Fin” vodka is made in Louisiana by a young entrepreneur who graduated from LSU in engineering. He decided use his engineering knowledge and passion for drinking vodka to distill his own liquor using a Louisiana product, sugar cane. The brand “Yellow Fin” is named after the owner’s love of deep sea spearfishing for yellow fin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico. The vodka is made in his brewery by distilling sugar which was derived from sugar cane. The brewery began selling vodka to the public in 2017.
And so, vodka does not have to come from potatoes. It is defined in the United States as: “Neutral spirits which are fermented from any raw material, distilled at or above 95% alcohol by volume and bottled at or above 40% alcohol by volume.” It cannot have flavorings. For example, it cannot be stored in wooden barrels. If differs from rum which is less than 95% alcohol and retains some of the flavoring. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/27/5.22
Over the years, many variations to recipes for “Moscow Mules” have evolved. I am making my “Holiday Moscow Mule” with cranberry juice rather than lime juice. I’m adding small amount of “simple syrup” since cranberry juice is mighty tart.
To make each drink, partially fill a copper mug with ice. Add 2 ounces each of vodka and cranberry juice and 1/2 ounce of “simple sugar” to each mug. Stir. Fill with ginger beer — about 4 to 6 oz per glass. Garnish with fresh cranberries, and if you wish, a spring of rosemary. The rosemary gives a festive appearance but it has a tendency to overpower the flavor of the drink — be careful with this garnish, it is optional. The copper mugs become very cold after the ice is added, sort of an a interesting piece of trivia — in other words, no reason to chill the mugs!
This is a refreshing and simple cocktail. Easy to enjoy several of these drinks on New Years Eve. Enjoy!
Holiday Moscow Mule Cocktail
- crushed ice
- 2 oz vodka
- 2 oz cranberry juice
- 1/2 oz simple sugar*
- 4 to 6 oz ginger beer
- 3 cranberries on skewer
- 1 rosemary sprig
Method and Steps:
- Fill copper Moscow Mule mug with ice.
- Add vodka, cranberry juice and simple sugar. Stir.
- Pour ginger beer over to fill to top.
- Garnish with fresh cranberries and rosemary sprig.
*NOTE: To make simple sugar, heat 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 water on stove. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, transfer to jar and refrigerate to chill. Alternately, place sugar and water in a large non-metallic 2-cup measuring cup and heat, partially covered, in microwave for approximately one minute to dissolve the sugar.