Well folks, it’s Mixology Monday time again! This month’s roundup is being hosted by Gabriel at Cocktailnerd, and the theme is
Fizz. In his pre-cocktailian existence, Gabriel was evidently a Champagne junkie. Stern warnings from his accountant, and I’m guessing a distaste for robbing houses, led him to the cocktail world in a search for elegant, yet less ruinous, libations. Who wants to be the one to tell him that this little arena of beverages ain’t much more affordable? Anyway, given the chance to helm the ship, Gabriel has decided to set the S.S. MxMo on a course back toward home. In what I’m guessing is a nod toward inclusiveness, or perhaps a desire for greater variety, Gabriel has avoided directly sailing into Champagne Harbor and has instead fetched us up upon the broader beaches of Fizzidom.
Having come this far, and not yet willing to let go of this bizarre metaphor I’ve fallen into, I look around the shores, looking for where I should strike out in search of material. Up the beach I see the shining spires of Champagne Harbor. I suspect that those are Gabriel’s footprints, among many others’, in the sand, heading in that direction. I consider following. But I’ve already visited Mimosa House—No joy there. Next, I am tempted to steer to the sound of the guns and fire off a French 75, but I have no lemons. Eventually, I turn away entirely, because… well… all the champagne I have on hand is too darned expensive to go off mixing cocktails with. After all, this is just a little simplistic for Mixology Monday, no?
1 Bottle fine champagne
Chill bottle, then open (with a saber if available).
Pour into champagne flute.
So, what else do I drink and enjoy that fizzes? In the opposite direction, the beach leads to Atlanta, and the concrete spire of Coca-Cola corporate headquarters. Hmmm. Missing something…. Oh yeah, Ethanol! Well, I just do not drink Jack and Coke, or any sort of Cuba Libre, so no joy there.
With a sigh, I turn to the interior wilds of my comfort zone: Esoteric cocktails from before I was born. I strike out away from shore, leaving this now laboring rhetorical device behind. I consult with my better half and she immediately whacks me on the noggin with the dope stick. How could I have been so blind?
Behold the Moscow Mule!
The Moscow Mule is actually a very important and influential drink, though I’m sure there are many folks out there who are not thankful for its influence. Before there was Bond, there was the Mule. It was sort of the A-Bomb before the H-Bomb in the Vodka explosion in America, and in cocktails in general. Dr. Cocktail, in his book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails has a really excellent run down on the history of the Mule, so I won’t try to duplicate his work. I will simply summarize it thus: Right after World War II, a troika (naturally) of people, one with a sea of unsell-able vodka, one with a sea of unsell-able Ginger Beer, and one with excess copper manufacturing capacity, came together to create one of the first commercially promoted cocktails: The Moscow Mule.
To me, the Mule is interesting because, besides being yummy, it is emblematic of the West’s infuriating, or laudable (depending on your politics), desire to identify with its mortal enemies. Like croissants, which were invented during the Crimean War against the Turks (the Ottoman crescent), Mao jammies, and Che Guevarra t-shirts, the Mule was Soviet Chic. Some bought them to lampoon the enemy. Some bought them to embrace the enemy. In the end, capitalism works. After all, crescent rolls are yummy, Mao pajamas are comfy, Moscow Mules are delicious, and Che was one dashingly handsome, sympathetic mass murderer.
So the Moscow Mule gave Smirnoff enough money to be able to do product placements in the Bond movies. Which in turn made Vodka what it is today. Why? A lot of people think it has to do with the iconic copper mugs that were de riguer in the mule’s heyday. I was first introduced to the Moscow Mule in genuine copper mugs in a restaurant called Papa Pieroshki’s, in Atlanta, back when I was young and dinosaurs walked the Earth. The mug really does add something to the party. But you can barely find the things, and they are not cheap. Do you antique? Go yard sale shopping on Saturdays? If you do, keep your eyes open. If a copper cup presents itself, pick one up. The fact that the mug was probably stolen from a bar in 1951, contributing to the demise of this fabulous cocktail, should not dissuade you. The statute of limitations has probably run out. Seriously. If you don’t like Moscow Mules yourself, send it on to me! That said, I don’t own a copper mug, and I don’t think you need one to enjoy this cocktail. The drink is great on its own, the copper makes it funky.
Upon its introduction, The Moscow Mule was just as much about selling the esoteric Ginger Beer as it was about selling this weird, unknown booze called Vodka. So is Ginger Beer what makes it great? In my humble opinion, no. Some Ginger Beers make a great mule. Others, frankly, suck. I prefer Canada Dry Ginger Ale. Could that be more boring? No! But it is reliable, available, and tasty. And with some tweaks to the original recipe, you get the same spicy wonder from boring grocery store ingredients.
So do I insist on Smirnoff’s in my Moscow Mules? Please. Tanqueray Sterling at home, and Ketel One at bars. I’ll get around to trying Smirnoff’s some day soon. If it makes a huge difference, I’ll make a huge stinking deal about it here. For now, I can only recommend moderately decent stuff. I’m sure Smirnoff’s would be great. No Valu-Rite. And no Grey Goose, Ultimat, or Belvedere. Save those for Martinis.
Let’s examine a final issue before we get to the recipe: What are Mules good for? It is not an elegant sipping cocktail. I employ it as alcoholic Gatorade, in all honesty. I only drink it when it is hot, I am sweaty, thirsty, and often still exercising. I find it to be the most refreshing alcoholic drink I have ever had. I’m guessing that if you give it a try, you may very well agree. It is not a very strong drink at all, so it is excellent while playing tennis, golf, or… what the heck, badminton!
I think I’ll give two recipes here: the classic original, and my own practical alternative.
Classic Moscow Mule
1.5 oz. Smirnoff’s Vodka
1.0 oz. Lime juice
Pour Vodka and lime juice into a chilled copper mug with ice.
Fill to rim with Ginger Beer.
Garnish with a slice of lime.
Practical Moscow Mule
1.5 oz. Ketel One
1.0 oz. Lime juice
Canada Dry Ginger Ale
Pour Vodka and lime juice into collins glass with ice.
Top with Ginger Ale.
Add two dashes Angustora Bitters (optional).
Stir. Garnish with a slice of lime.
The Angustora is very optional here. I think it adds back some of the spiciness that you lose with Ginger Ale versus Ginger Beer. Plus, I just like the stuff. This is a yummy drink, that won’t knock you flat, so you can experiment with various amounts of bitters in a single sitting ’till you get the amount you like. This is the ratio that works for me. Smirnoff’s own website suggests a sprig of mint. Me, I don’t see it.
Seriously, this is a great drink. It deserves a resurgence. And everyone can make it. Next time you are genuinely thirsty—you know, as opposed to needing a drink—give this fella a try. You’ll be glad you did.
Updated: MxMo XIX is now up over at Cocktailnerd! Click here, or on the MxMo logo to find your way there!