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Today a popular choice of mixed drinks in bars across the United States, the Moscow mule ingredients were anything but popular when this famed mule drink was first concocted in 1941. Making use of only three ingredients – vodka, lime juice and ginger beer – the Moscow mule is easy to make and even easier to transform. While there are a few alternate versions of the drink’s origin, the one take that is generally accepted is that John G. Martin, who had purchased the Smirnoff vodka distillery, was responsible for the success of the drink.

Moscow Mule History

Contrary to what its name suggests, the Moscow mule doesn’t have anything to do with donkeys. Also, it was not invented in Moscow; it was invented in the United States. An excess of vodka – an unpopular liquor in America at the time – coupled with an excess of ginger beer made by Martin’s friend and owner of the Cock’n Bull bar in Los Angeles, Jack Morgan, led to the creation of one of America’s most popular cocktails.

What is the reason it is always served in a copper cup? Apparently, Morgan’s girlfriend, Osalene Schmitt, had inherited a copper goods business and needed to find a use for its inventory of copper mugs.

There is also an interesting bit of history with regard to the drink’s unique name. “Moscow” acknowledges the liquor’s Russian roots, while some speculate that “mule” refers to the kick that its second main ingredient, ginger beer, provides to the flavor. Ads for “mule parties” featured many Hollywood celebrities enjoying a mug of Moscow mule in an effort to popularize vodka and bring it up to the ranks of whiskey and gin.

What’s in a Moscow Mule?

The key to a classic Moscow mule recipe is using vodka as the liquor of choice – Smirnoff vodka, in particular, based on the Moscow mule’s history. Traditionally served in a copper mug over ice, the other Moscow mule ingredients include lime juice (freshly squeezed is best) and ginger beer. If you don’t have a copper mug on hand, alternatives that work well are Collins glasses or highballs.

The Best Vodka for a Moscow Mule Cocktail

In keeping with tradition, a classic Moscow mule recipe would use Smirnoff No. 21 as the vodka of choice. It is best to avoid those that tend to leave a bitter aftertaste or those that provide a sharp flavor, affecting the overall taste of the drink.

Popular vodka brands like Ketel One and Grey Goose are both acceptable replacements. However, if you are making a variation of the original mule drink, especially a fruity one, substituting plain vodka with Smirnoff’s lime-flavored or citrus-flavored vodkas works exceptionally well.

The Best Ginger Beer for a Moscow Mule

Ginger beer is a nonalcoholic beverage that has been enjoyed as early as the 15th century. It is simple enough to make using freshly grated ginger, water, sugar and lemon juice, which are combined and fermented with yeast. The resulting flavorful mixture can be consumed on its own or as an added ingredient in cocktails like the Moscow mule.

The best ginger beer you can get your hands on is the Cock’n Bull ginger beer, which is the original ingredient that was used to make the first Moscow mule recipe. However, if that is not available, a ginger beer that is spicy and not too cloyingly sweet, like Fever Tree ginger beer or Reed’s extra ginger brew, makes the perfect replacement.

The Difference Between Ginger Beer and Ginger Soda

The major difference between ginger beer and ginger soda is how they are made. While ginger beers are made by the process of fermentation, which if left for longer can turn the ginger beer alcoholic, ginger soda (also called ginger ale) is always nonalcoholic and is made by mixing ginger syrup and carbonated water. The second way to differentiate between a ginger beer and ginger soda is by the level of fizziness. The process of fermenting ginger beer leads to a less-fizzy result.

Homemade Moscow Mule Recipe

Total Time: 5 minutes | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Serves: 1 classic Moscow mule drink

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup ice cubes

  • 2 ounces Smirnoff No. 21 vodka

  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup ginger beer, preferably Cock’n Bull

Directions:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. 

  2. Add measured vodka and lime juice to the cocktail shaker. 

  3. Cover and shake vigorously until the ingredients are well mixed. 

  4. Strain into a copper mug over ice. 

  5. Top with ginger beer and stir gently to mix.

Tip

Garnish the cocktail with a lime wheel. The cocktail can also be served in a highball or Collins glass.

Twists on the Traditional Moscow Mule Cocktail

The three Moscow mule ingredients used in the iconic Moscow mule drink can easily be interchanged to create a slew of creative cocktails. When it comes to liquors, tequila, gin and bourbon can all be used as replacements for vodka in a Moscow mule recipe. Using a spiced rum like Sailor Jerry ups the original cocktail’s spiciness kick and is referred to as a Jerry mule.

Replacing the ginger beer with ginger ale results in a lighter and fizzier cocktail known as a Moscow buck. If you prefer more strength in your cocktail, use an alcoholic ginger beer like Crabbie’s or Henry’s Hard Soda. An alternative way to lighten this relatively spicy cocktail is by adding a couple of teaspoons of simple syrup to the mix before serving. You can also get creative by adding flavored simple syrups like lavender simple syrup or rosemary syrup for a mild herbal taste.

Moscow Mule Recipe Variation #1

An update to the classic Moscow mule recipe features the addition of simple sugar syrup, which works exceptionally well at mellowing out the spicy flavors of the ginger beer.

Total Time: 5 minutes | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup ice cubes

  • 2 ounces vodka

  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/3 ounce simple syrup

Directions:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. 

  2. Add measured vodka, lime juice and simple syrup to the cocktail shaker. 

  3. Cover and shake vigorously until the ingredients are well mixed. 

  4. Strain into a copper mug over ice. 

  5. Top with ginger beer and stir gently to mix.

Moscow Buck Recipe

Switching out the ginger beer for ginger ale results in a lighter cocktail with a slight name change. "Buck" instead of "mule" represents a milder flavor profile caused by using ginger ale, which is made from carbonated water and ginger syrup.

Total Time: 5 minutes | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup ice cubes

  • 2 ounces Smirnoff No. 21 vodka

  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 cup ginger ale

Directions:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. 

  2. Add measured vodka, lime juice and ginger ale to the cocktail shaker. 

  3. Cover and shake vigorously until the ingredients are well mixed. 

  4. Strain into a copper cup over ice. 

Mexican Mule Recipe

Make this variation of the classic mule drink with tequila as your liquor of choice.

Total Time: 5 minutes | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup ice cubes

  • 2 ounces tequila

  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup ginger beer 

Directions:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. 

  2. Add measured tequila and lime juice to the cocktail shaker. 

  3. Cover and shake vigorously until the ingredients are well mixed. 

  4. Strain into a copper mug over ice.

  5. Top with ginger beer and stir gently to mix.

Kentucky Mule Recipe

A Southern take on the classic Moscow mule recipe makes use of bourbon. This recipe works particularly well with a spicy ginger beer like Reed’s extra ginger brew.

Total Time: 5 minutes | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup ice cubes

  • 2 ounces bourbon

  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 cup ginger beer 

Directions:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. 

  2. Add measured bourbon and lime juice to the cocktail shaker. 

  3. Cover and shake vigorously until the ingredients are well mixed. 

  4. Strain into a copper mug over ice.

  5. Top with ginger beer and stir gently to mix.

Tip

Garnish the cocktail with an orange peel.

Cucumber Gin Mule Recipe

Replacing vodka for gin in the classic Moscow mule ingredients results in an equally popular choice of cocktail. Cucumber juice can be easily made by blending and straining peeled cucumbers.

Total Time: 10 minutes | Prep Time: 10 minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup ice cubes

  • 2 ounces gin

  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce fresh cucumber juice
  • 1/2 cup ginger beer

Directions:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. 

  2. Add measured gin, lime juice and cucumber juice to the cocktail shaker. 

  3. Cover and shake vigorously until the ingredients are well mixed. 

  4. Strain into a copper mug over ice. 

  5. Top with ginger beer and stir gently to mix.

Tip

Garnish the cocktail with a few slices of thinly peeled cucumbers.

Virgin Moscow Mule Recipe

What goes in a Moscow mule doesn’t always have to be alcoholic. This take is a nonalcoholic Moscow mule recipe that uses club soda in place of vodka. This is a refreshing cocktail that is sure to be a crowd pleaser minus the hangover.

Total Time: 5 minutes | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup ice cubes

  • 2 ounces club soda

  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup ginger beer

Directions:

  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. 

  2. Use a measuring cup to measure out the club soda, lime juice and ginger beer before adding it to the cocktail shaker. 

  3. Cover and shake vigorously until all the ingredients are well mixed. 

  4. Strain the virgin mule drink mix into a copper mug or highball glass over ice.

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About the Author

Christabel Lobo

Christabel Lobo is a freelance writer focusing on all-things food, travel, and wellness. Her writing has appeared in Tenderly, SilverKris, Byrdie, Trivago, Open Skies, Fodor’s, London’s Evening Standard, Silkwinds, HuffPost, Barclays Travel, Pint Size Gourmets, and on her personal yoga & travel blog, Where’s Bel. Feel free to check out her design and writing portfolio: christabel.co