Moscow Mules are simple—all you need is some vodka, ginger beer, a squeeze of lime and the all-important mug. But you can do better than that. It’s easy to make a perfectly acceptable Moscow Mule, but if you want to make the best Moscow Mule, there are a few things you need to do differently.
Richard Vila is one of the owners of the Rusted Mule, a new San Francisco bar serving up multiple Mules (or Bucks) on tap. Currently, the menu features the bar’s take on the vodka-based classic, the eponymous Rusted Mule (made with Ketel One, lime juice and their own “ginger concoction”), as well as the Oh-Be-Joyful (genever, dry vermouth and ginger), the Mula Verde (tequila, Ancho Reyes Verde liqueur and ginger) and the Aeronef (whiskey, Amaro Montenegro and ginger). Though all of these Bucks are dispensed from a tap, Vila knows a thing or two about making a Mule from scratch—the right way. Here, he shares his advice for making the best Moscow Mule of your life.
“When the Mule started, it was a marriage of Smirnoff and Cock ‘n Bull, but the thing that captured people’s attention was the copper mug,” Vila says. “We’re all suckers for something shiny.” That mug has become a trigger for people, inspiring a Pavlovian effect. “When you walk into a restaurant or a bar and you see that copper mug you think, ‘That would be really good right now.’” As Vila notes, the mug isn’t totally necessary if you’re making the drink at home, but it certainly does add to the experience. If you opt for the full package, choose a copper mug that’s lined with stainless steel (it’s safer that way).
When it comes to ice, forget cubes—the Moscow Mule demands crushed ice and crushed ice only. “Crushed ice keeps the drink really cold,” Vila says. And a cold drink is a fizzy drink. “If liquid goes above 42 degrees, it goes flat,” he says. No one wants a flat Mule, so break out the mallet and Lewis bag and get to crushing.
Some might argue that because vodka is, by definition, a neutral spirit, it shouldn’t matter which vodka you use in a mixed drink. Vila thinks differently. “I think the vodka is definitely important,” he says. “You want something that you actually like drinking. When you’re cooking and making a beef dish and you put a little wine in there, you want something that you find flavorful and tasty.” The same goes for vodka in a Moscow Mule. Make sure it’s something that you wouldn’t mind sipping straight.
The Ginger Beer
While other Bucks are perfectly fine with ginger ale, Moscow Mules, thanks to their mild base spirit, require something with a little more bite: ginger beer. But there are lots of ways to go within the ginger beer category, and it’s up to you to pick the bottling you like best. “The original recipe called for Cock ‘n Bull,” Vila says. “But personally I like Bundaberg if I’m making one at home—it lets you do more with the lime.” If you want it funkier, try a Jamaican-style beer.
If you’re just starting out on your Moscow Mule journey, add the spirit and lime juice to the mug, then add ice and top with ginger beer. But if you’ve been at it for a while and know how much ginger beer you like, add the spirit last. “It mixes better,” Vila says. He prefers a mix of three to four ounces of ginger beer to two ounces of vodka—but it’s all up to how much ginger bite versus how much vodka bite you want to get out of your drink.
A Moscow Mule is made with lime juice, so the go-to garnish is obviously a lime. But Vila recommends lime wheels over lime wedges. “There’s a subconscious thing that happens when you place a citrus wedge on a drink—you want to squeeze it,” he says. He and his staff pride themselves on their perfectly balanced drinks, which don’t need any more lime juice. So he garnishes his Mules with an unsqueezable lime wheel instead. There’s also the issue of what happens when lime juice comes in contact with copper—it can corrode the metal. Even if you’re going with a wedge, drop it directly into the drink instead of placing it on the rim. Your mugs will last a lot longer.
The straw is more than just a cute accessory when it comes to the Mule; the drink is just plain better when sipped through one (a paper straw—like Vila uses—or metal straw, preferably). “If you are drinking from the top you’ll have a more diluted drink, but from the bottom you’ll get the drink how it’s meant to be,” Vila says. ”If you’re drinking from the bottom, you get the drink at its ideal temperature and you’ll get a lot more of the fizz.” Melting ice might be great for a Negroni, a drink that needs that dilution, but it spells a mediocre drinking experience for a Mule.