If you spot a copper mug at a proper cocktail bar, you’ve undoubtedly encountered a Moscow Mule, a name that may conjure up images of the Kremlin. But this recognizable concoction doesn’t hail from the capital of Russia. Rather its origins were conceived in New York, circa 1941.
As the story goes, its three iconic ingredients — vodka, ginger beer, and the copper mug — came together when one John G. Martin drowned his sorrows at a New York hotel bar with one John Morgan, owner of L.A.’s British-inspired Cock ‘n’ Bull pub. Martin, an executive at the beverage company Heublein, was having a hard time hawking his company’s latest acquisition, Smirnoff Vodka, because vodka wasn’t popular in the American cocktail scene at the time. Morgan had a similar problem trying to sell his ginger beer, which he had a surplus of back in Los Angeles.
A lightbulb went off to solve their problems, and the now immortal blend of their two ingredients came together, which they cleverly marketed to bars across the country. “Moscow” came from the vodka, and ginger beer provided a spicy kick, like a “mule.” It’s believed that Cock ‘n’ Bull’s head bartender Wes Price was also involved with the creation — perhaps it was he who added the lime and crushed ice.
As for the copper mug? Sure, it helps keep the crushed ice cold, but its rise to cocktail fame was purely coincidence. Morgan’s girlfriend Osalene Schmitt owned a copper goods company — and had products to push. And so the three capitalists and their goods came together out of a necessity to profit, and cocktail history was made.
The original Moscow Mule recipe is rather brilliant in its simplicity and near effortless to make. Two ounces of vodka. A squeeze of lime. Three ounces of ginger beer. Serve over ice. However, it’s easy to elevate and, with but a few additions, can be made spicier, sweeter, bolder, and more complex. Need some inspiration? Here are nine Moscow Mule variations from mixologists across the country that bring new levels to the classic drink.
1. The Mountain Mule
Vodka, by definition, is a neutral spirit that can be distilled with grains or potatoes, or a blend of any of it. However, the distillers at Chopin Vodka like showcasing their ingredients and produce single-ingredient vodkas so the nuances shine—as is in the case of this mule riff using rye vodka.
“This variation on the popular Moscow Mule was dreamt up in the Green Mountains of Vermont and inspired by flavors from around the world,” says Mark Addison, author of Cocktail Chameleon. “My homemade Vermont maple syrup adds a faintly smoky swirl of sweetness to the spicy Northern Italian amaro and Chopin Rye Vodka.”
- 1½oz. Chopin Rye Vodka
- ½oz. Amaro Montenegro
- ½oz. Vermont maple syrup
- ½oz. Fresh lime juice
- 3oz. Ginger beer
- Cinnamon stick or orange twist, for garnish
Fill a shaker with ice and add the vodka, amaro, maple syrup, and lime juice. Shake until it’s well chilled. Then pour it into a double old-fashioned glass and top it off with the ginger beer. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or an orange twist.
2. Finnish Mule
Use Finnish vodka and add some lingonberries, and you’ll travel from Moscow to Helsinki. “Here at Koskenkorva, we love to add elements of the natural world into our cocktails,” says Mikael Karttunen, Global Brand Ambassador for the vodka maker. “In our rendition of a mule, you will be transported to the center of the forest with a revitalizing taste of mint and mountain cranberry [lingonberry].”
- 2oz. Koskenkorva Vodka
- 1oz. Lingonberry juice
- Ginger beer
- Mint leaves, for garnish
Mix the vodka and lingonberry juice over ice, then top it up with ginger beer. Garnish with mint leaves.
3. The Montpelier Mule
There’s no ginger beer in this Moscow Mule variation. Instead, seltzer is pepped up with ginger syrup to recreate the effect — a trick used in a few of these recipes. “Fresh ginger syrup made in house at our distillery’s bar, is mixed with secret spices and sweetened with Barr Hill’s delicious regional raw honey,” says Sam Nelis of Montpelier’s Gin Lane Bar. “It gives the flavor a botanical spice to the palate as well as a hint of wild flowers on the nose.”
- 2oz. Barr Hill Vodka
- 1oz. Homemade ginger syrup*
- 1oz. Fresh lime juice
- Seltzer water
- Candied ginger, for garnish
In a copper mule mug, combine the vodka, ginger syrup, and lime juice over ice, then top with seltzer water. Garnish with the candied ginger.
*For the ginger syrup
Infuse pinches of star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon with 35oz. of fresh ginger juice. Strain it through fine mesh, then bring it to a simmer in a saucepan for five minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 28oz. of raw honey.
4. The Gin-Gin Mule
“Utilizing fresh juiced ginger to create ‘ginger beer’ helps the cocktail develop a lovely spicy, aromatic cocktail,” says Marshall Minaya, beverage director at New York’s Madame George. “The Gin-Gin mule was created by Audrey Saunders when we were a bit more actively working to get patrons to drink gin again. Her goal was to make a spicy, gin mojito — and that’s exactly what she did. The Gin-Gin Mule has been one of my go to recommendations for years.”
- 2oz. Fords London Dry Gin
- ½oz. Lime juice
- ¾oz. Ginger syrup
- Soda water
- 6–7 Mint leaves
- Mint leaf bouquet, for garnish
Add the gin, lime juice, syrup, and mint leaves into a shaker, then add ice and shake vigorously. Add the soda water to the shaker, then strain it into a Collins glass, and then garnish with a mint bouquet.
5. The Cointreau Mule
Swap the vodka with this well-known orange-flavored triple sec, and you have a refreshing riff by way of France. “The beautiful orange flavors found in Cointreau elevate the tart citrus and spiciness of the ginger,” says Karen Grill, director of Rémy Cointreau’s Collectif 1806. “Each flavor is harmonious, but shines through in this unexpected variation of the classic mule cocktail.”
- 2oz. Cointreau
- 3oz. Ginger beer
- ¾oz. Fresh lime juice
- Lime wedge, for garnish
Stir the Cointreau, ginger beer, and lime juice in a highball glass filled with ice. Then garnish with a lime wedge.
6. The Pomegranate Mule
Late autumn and early winter bring the pomegranate harvest season, and this rendition celebrates that red fruit filled with the juicy edible seeds. “This seasonal take on a mule looks beautiful and feels festive, while still being straightforward enough for the home bartender,” says Andrew Boczar of Grand Teton Distillery. “I love the way that the pomegranate makes the drink bright but not overly tart.”
- 2oz. Grand Teton Vodka
- 2oz. Pomegranate juice
- ½oz. Fresh lime juice
- 4oz. Ginger beer
- 1tsp. Agave nectar
- Pomegranate seeds, lime wedge, and fresh mint or a rosemary sprig, for garnish
Combine the vodka, juices, ginger beer, and agave in a glass with ice and stir. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, the lime wedge, and mint or rosemary.
7. The Oh Muley Night
"In this variation of a Moscow Mule, I added in cranberry and paired it with YoCo Vodka to highlight and bring the flavor profile to the front of the palate,” says Taylor Cavanaugh, a Connecticut-based mixologist. “The cranberry addition tones down the spice of ginger beer and brings forward a warmth to the drink, making it the perfect winter version of a Moscow Mule.”
- 1½oz. YoCo Vodka
- 2oz. Ginger beer
- ½oz. Sweetened cranberry juice
- Cranberries, a sprig of rosemary, and an orange slice, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, combine the vodka, ginger beer, and cranberry juice with ice. Shake thoroughly and then pour it into a tumbler filled with ice. Garnish with a spring of rosemary, an orange slice, and cranberries.
8. The Tiger Lily
Swap vodka for mezcal, and pineapple for the lime, and you have a unique mezcal mule. “The Tiger Lily is a very refreshing take on a classic mule,” says Ninotchka Gandulla, brand ambassador of Ojo de Tigre mezcal. “The ginger and pineapple complement the citrus and herbal flavors in Ojo de Tigre Mezcal, and the subtle earthiness elevates the cocktail.”
- 1½oz. Ojo de Tigre mezcal
- 1½oz. Pineapple juice
- 2oz. Ginger beer
- Pineapple slice or lime wedge, for garnish
Mix the mezcal, juice, and ginger beer over ice in a highball glass. Then garnish with a pineapple slice or lime.
9. Fresh Coast
“Our Fresh Coast is a perfect marriage between a Bee’s Knees and a Moscow Mule,” says Adhel Martinez, brand ambassador of Las Californias gin. “Our Cítrico expression works beautifully with this cocktail as it is very bright and juicy, citrus forward with notes of lemongrass. This pairs perfectly with the spice of fresh ginger juice and the acidity of lemon juice, all balanced out by honey.”
- 1½oz. Las Californias Cítrico gin
- 1½oz. Ginger shot
- ½oz. Lemon juice
- 1oz. Honey water (1:3 honey and water)
- Lemon zest and honeycomb, for garnish
Combine the gin, ginger, honey, and lemon juice, into a cocktail shaker and shake with ice. Strain it into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with lemon zest and honeycomb.