Around the bar, it seems that this season's official cocktail is the Moscow Mule. Over the past few weeks, its popularity has skyrocketed. I'm a little surprised that people often say I make a really good one. It's such a simple drink, anyone should be able to put together a good one.
Alas, bartenders the world over feel like they need to dress up the Mule. In goes a dash or two of bitters. Sometimes they'll use a squirt of simple syrup. It's time to get back to basics, and reclaim the simple elegance of the Moscow Mule.
The history of the Moscow Mule fascinates me a little more than most cocktails; it's the direct result of a clever marketing scheme. It all started in the early 1940s in a New York hotel bar, where three men got together for drinks. The president of former spirits giant Heublein brought with him the president of Heublein's relatively new brand, Smirnoff vodka. Back then, vodka wasn't nearly as popular as it is today; it was often marketed as "white whiskey" to give it a little familiarity with the popular spirits of the day. (Oddly, a number of distillers are trying this again these days to get whiskey-loving bartenders back into white spirits. I wish them luck.). The third person was the owner of the Cock & Bull restaurant in Hollywood.
The Cock & Bull was sitting on a big cache of ginger beer, and was at a loss as to how to get rid of it profitably. For this group, the natural solution was to add Smirnoff vodka. A squeeze of lime was a natural add-in, bringing the Moscow Mule into the realm of the buck, an arcane drink category that simply mixed a base spirit with ginger beer and lemon or lime.
There's one more part to the story: The iconic copper mug. It became part of the Mule when a friend of the owner of Cock & Bull inherited a copper factory. They had a bunch of copper mugs laying around, which she sold to the Cock & Bull at a discount. The mugs proved eye-catching, and kept the drink especially frosty. Now if only there was an easy way to keep sticky-fingered guests from walking out the door with them.
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The recipe, and some tips:
When making a great Moscow Mule, it's important to use real ginger beer; most ginger ale lacks the backbone necessary for the drink. Beyond that, all you need is some juice from a lime, and vodka. Oh, it's worth noting: This time of year, since local citrus has just gone out of season, the limes in the market right now are dry as dust. You might want to squeeze in an entire lime for the time being.
Moscow Mule Juice of half a lime (scant ½ ounce), shell reserved 1 ½ ounces vodka Ginger beer to fill (3 to 5 ounces)
Squeeze lime into a tall ice-filled glass. Drop in shell. Add vodka and ginger beer. Stir gently to combine. Garnish with a sprig of mint, if desired.