When you hear “Moscow Mule” many cocktail drinkers immediately see a shiny copper mug filled to the brim with ice and definitely think vodka. Ginger beer and accompanying lime juice round out the drink.
The drink itself though is a refreshing, subtly spicy cocktail—or not so subtly, if you’re drinking the red-hot ginger beer or ale version—featuring ginger and lime juice at the forefront, with the vodka relegated to the background, although its effects will be felt eventually.
However, if you replace that vodka with mezcal—the agave-based liquor from Mexico—the drink takes on a whole new character: lively, earthy, smoky. Then you have a Mezcal Mule!
Why Is This Cocktail Called a Mule?
The term “mule” in the drink’s name has nothing to do with the animal, but in fact refers to drinks made with ginger beer (or ginger ale); they originate from the broader category of ‘bucks’ (still, having nothing to do with animals, but a combination of alcohol, citrus, and ginger beer).
The buck made its first appearance in the late 19th century, but the Moscow Mule is the cocktail that brought this style of drink to fame and a much wider audience. While exact origins are hazy, the drink made a noticeable appearance in the early 1940’s as a way to sell both Smirnoff vodka and house-made ginger beer at the Los Angeles bar Cock’n’Bull.
And those copper mugs? Well, that’s an even muddier story, with a whole host of competing origins. But, having a specific, specialty glass to serve your drink in—one that sometimes requires a monetary deposit—is definitely a way to get people’s attention.
Turning a Moscow Mule into a Mezcal Mule
In the mid-aughts, as mezcal started making its way onto cocktail menus, some iterations of the Moscow Mule started appearing with the vodka being replaced by mezcal. The first version in print was bartender Jim Meehan’s, which introduced house-made ginger beer with addition of passion fruit, agave syrup, and cucumbers. However, this recipe goes for the most straightforward version with a 1:1 switch of base liquor.
Here the mezcal provides a smoky kick to the drink that balances, not overwhelms the spicy ginger. Because the ginger beer has such a presence in the drink, those who typically find mezcal too smoky, will be happy to find it much more on the mellow side here.
I would say that if you’re unsure about where to start with mezcal in cocktails, or have found it too overpowering on its own, the Mezcal Mule is a recommended starting place.
Although ginger beer (which refers to bottlings that are fermented but non-alcoholic) has a stronger ginger flavor than ginger ale (which is a carbonated soda with ginger flavoring), they can both range from mellow to very strong and spicy. If you plan on making two drinks, then a bottle like Reed’s Ginger Beer is a great option, but if you’re looking for a single serving drink, Fever-Tree has 5-ounce serving cans that mean no leftovers.
My Go-To Bottle of Mezcal
For mezcal recommendations, my go-to bottle has been Del Maguey Vida for years now, but I’m also partial to El Silencio and Sombra. If you’re looking for a bottle light on the smoky flavor, Montelobos is a sure bet.
Could you make this with a tequila instead? Yes, Cazadores Blanco would work here!
But, fun fact, all tequila is actually mezcal, as mezcal is a broad term for all liquor distilled from agave plants. The types of agave will dictate what type of liquor you’re making. To be considered tequila, you need to use the blue agave plant, and it must be steamed for distillation. Mezcal, made mostly in Oaxaca, can be a blend of several different types of agave plants, and it is produced in the ground in wood pits.
No Copper Mug? No Problem!
If you don’t own a copper mug, yes, you can still make a Mezcal Mule (the copper is pretty to look at but doesn’t actually impart anything to the drink). Make sure your glass is something akin to a double rocks glass, so that it can hold at least 10-plus ounces (liquids plus ice). And for garnishes, a simple lime slice is standard, but I also enjoy a piece of candied ginger in addition skewed on top (mostly because I enjoy snacking on it between sips).
Tips, Tricks, and Variations for Mules
- Build the drink in the glass! No need to bust out a shaker or mixing glass here. The bubbles from the ginger beer help move the aromas of the drink around, and a light stir with a straw will mix it all together.
- Crushed ice or ice cubes? You can go either way. I prefer cubes to keep my drink cold without too much dilution.
- Make it spicy! Ginger beer in itself can be surprisingly spicy if you’re used to only ginger ale, but if you want an extra kick in your drink, look for ginger beer branded as extra spicy or “hot.” I like Reed’s “extra ginger” for that bite. However, Blenheim’s Ginger Ale (which is not fermented with yeast like ginger beers), has a “hot” ginger ale that will clear your sinuses and give you a truly hot ginger flavor.
- Another popular take on the mule utilizes Gosling’s dark rum in place of the vodka (or mezcal) for a Dark and Stormy cocktail. (And if you don’t have specifically Gosling's, any dark rum will suffice)
- Switch out the bourbon for the base liquor and you’ve got yourself a Kentucky Mule.
- A Gin Gin Mule swaps a London Dry style gin for the liquor.
- 2 ounces mezcal
- 3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 1 medium lime)
- 5 ounces ginger beer
- For garnish
- Lime wedge
- Candied ginger
Make the cocktail:
Fill a copper mug, or double rocks glass with ice cubes. Pour in the mezcal, lime juice, and top with ginger beer. Stir gently to combine.
Garnish and serve:
Garnish with lime wedge and candied ginger on a cocktail pick. Serve.
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