The Moscow Mule is a bubbly, bold, and bracing mid-century, 3-ingredient masterpiece.
Just vodka, lime juice, and a ginger beer pour-over and you have a simple drink for any season. If you’re not familiar with this icy beverage you probably recognize its characteristic serving vessel—the copper mug.
Copper mug or not this vodka highball is utterly refreshing and easy to make for beginner mixologists.
What is a Moscow Mule?
The Moscow Mule belongs to a family of drinks called highballs, which just means the drink is more mixer than alcohol.
In this case, the classic formula calls for vodka and lime juice, topped with ginger beer, and served over ice in a copper mug. My recipe calls for 3 oz of ginger beer but you can add as much or as little as you’d like. A lime wedge and/or mint sprig on top and you have the perfect brunch or backyard sipper.
If the spicy bite of ginger beer isn’t for you, replace the ginger beer with ginger ale and you’ve got yourself a sweeter drink called a vodka buck.
Moscow Mule History
In the 1940s, just as vodka was rising in popularity (and distribution) in the United States, John G. Martin of Heublein Inc., the company making Smirnoff vodka, was having trouble selling it.
According to "The Joy of Mixology," by Gary Regan, Martin was having a drink one afternoon with his friend John A. Morgan, owner of the Hollywood Cock ‘n’ Bull Restaurant and they hit on the idea of combining several ounces of Martin’s vodka with Morgan’s homemade ginger beer. They were onto something.
The fact that Morgan’s girlfriend owned a company that made copper mugs, among other products, was simple serendipity. They marketed the drink as a whole idea and a classic was practically made overnight.
What's in a Moscow Mule?
The Moscow Mule is a simple marriage of vodka, bright and fresh lime juice, and bracingly spicy ginger beer, that’s it.
You can use bottled lime juice instead of fresh, or a sweeter ginger ale, which makes it a buck, because it has less of a (mule’s) kick, but you have a lot of room to dial this in to suit your own tastes before you could truly mess it up. And if you do? Just make another—you might find you can drink these all day.
To garnish a Moscow Mule keep it (relatively) simple: A wedge or even wheel of lime, and if you’re really feeling fancy, a fresh sprig of mint.
Best Vodka for a Mule
This cocktail is such a mixer that there is no need to go for top shelf vodka. A mixing blend like Tito’s would do, though Ketel One is both affordable and high enough quality to work as a sipper. Each of those brands would be affordable and easy enough to find, as would Smirnoff itself, the brain-trust behind this classic cocktail.
Best Ginger Beer for a Moscow Mule
While a half-decent vodka is fine here, this is not the time to phone in your ginger beer order. There are many, many ginger beer and ale brands out there, but you want to use a brand with enough bite to balance out the lime juice. At the same time, you’ll want to steer clear of the many overly sweet (40g+ sugar per serving) options out there.
Both Fever Tree Ginger Beer and Q Ginger Beer are good choices, each made with real ginger and with a spare but balanced sweetness. Fever Tree has three types of ginger blended in, while Q Ginger Beer leans on agave for sweetness.
Bundaberg is brewed similarly to regular beer, and is one of the best traditional options, though somewhat sweeter than the other listed brands.
Reed’s is similarly sweet, but also one of the spiciest. Outside of that, feel free to experiment. Find the best balance of spice, sweetness, and carbonation by trying out different ginger beers.
Why are Moscow Mules Served in Copper Mugs?
Here is where we could tell you that the copper mugs keep the drink colder, that the vodka oxidizes the copper resulting in a bigger flavor and aroma, but there is only one reason to use the mug—tradition.
Similar to drinking a mint julep in a silver julep cup, it’s simply more fun. This isn’t to say that solid copper doesn’t seem to get colder when you make a mule, but you should feel free to use any type of glass or cup that strikes your fancy. Whether that be a rocks glass or mason jar, highball glass or a beautiful handled copper mug you’ve been keeping around for just this moment.
Best Mule Variations
- Mexican Mule: Tequila, lime, and ginger beer. Tequila is a mezcal, so this variation is considered a Mezcal Mule— you can swap in any mezcal you might like.
- Kentucky Mule: Bourbon, lime, and ginger beer. Similarly, an Irish Mule would swap in Irish Whiskey.
- Gin-Gin Mule: Gin, lime, ginger beer, and mint
- Dark and Stormy: Dark rum, ginger beer, and just a hint of lime
- Strawberry Basil Mule: Vodka, lime, strawberries, basil and ginger beer
More Classic Cocktail Recipes
- 2 ounces vodka
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 3 ounces ginger beer
- Lime wheel or wedge, garnish (optional)
- Mint sprig, garnish (optional)
Combine vodka and lime juice in a shaker:
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the vodka and lime juice and shake until chilled, about 10 seconds.
Strain the cocktail:
Strain into a copper mug or glass filled with chipped ice. Top with ginger beer.
Garnish the cocktail:
Garnish with a lime wedge and mint sprig, say a good toast, and enjoy immediately.