The Mule (Moscow and Otherwise)

muler?muler?Proposed by: David

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a drink a drink. Specifically, I’ve been wondering how so many varieties of mules (some call them bucks) can all be all one drink. How can one name fit seemingly infinite visions and revisions?

This week, my wife and I attended a cocktail class taught by Devin Kidner, the founder of Hollow Leg and a master mixologist for the Koval Distillery. Besides having a wonderful time on a roof deck with an awe-inspiring view of the Chicago skyline, we learned a lot about cocktails’ basic components and how they cooperate to create drinks’ distinctive tastes. One of the most illuminating lessons for me was that, once you identify the essential elements of a drink, you can mix, match, and adapt freely and without fear.

Taking that lesson to heart, I tried a couple of variations on the classic Moscow Mule, which traditionally includes lime juice, vodka, and ginger beer, often in nifty copper cups, which—thanks to a birthday gift from my wife—we now own. I can’t distinguish between ginger beer and ginger ale or say what a buck is. Wikipedia will have to help you with the drink’s history, but the web is crowded with many other less than traditional mules. Many restaurants and bars have signature mules. You can change the spirit and the juice and serve it in a glass. You can shake it with ice or make it in the cup. You can garnish it with mint or lemon or nothing. But nearly every mule recipe calls for ginger—ginger beer, ginger ale, ginger syrup, even (I suppose) real grated ginger or ginger candy.

Devin gave me the idea that a sweet liqueur can substitute for simple syrup, and I chose Koval Ginger Liqueur to stand in for the essential mule element. She also suggested, though, that carbonation is never incidental in a well-made mixed drink. It not only cuts the sweetness, but also often balances, enhances, or moderates the spicy and/or hot aspects of a cocktail, which she labeled as their trigeminal effects. You’ll have to ask her what that is, but, as the drink clearly needed something fizzy, I added seltzer for one variation and a combination of seltzer and tonic for another.

Then, just to make the whole enterprise even more complicated, I used bourbon instead of vodka, meaning my cocktail was more accurately a variation of a Kentucky Mule.

A little knowledge can be a powerful thing. Devin compares her mission to the old adage about teaching someone to fish instead of giving them a fish, and it’s liberating to know that a manhattan or a sling or a mojito or a caipirinha can be just the starting point for cocktails in many different guises.

And on that copper cup… while it may not be essential, it does definitely add to the experience of a mule. The metal gets very cold and condensation quickly covers its surface. That’s pretty, but it also creates an enlivening and refreshing sensation similar to drinking spring water from a metal ladle, which—I’m guessing—could be another trigeminal effect. I’m not at all sure about the science, but now that we have those cups, I’ll be looking for other reasons to use them.

Here’s Jonathan’s Review:

mulishness2

There are so many questions that I hope David has answered. What is the difference between ginger ale and ginger beer? Is there a difference in a mule and a buck? Why does this cocktail have its own designated vessel and does it make a difference? What the heck does Moscow have to do with this anyway? To be so perplexing this classic is worth the questions.

My ginger beer of choice was Crabbie’s, a version from the United Kingdom. That really raised the initial question, since up to that point I thought the difference in ginger ale and beer was alcohol. Apparently not since when I asked in the store for ginger beer the helpful clerk responded with “alcoholic or non-alcoholic.”

This is a cocktail blog – I answered “alcoholic.”

The vodka this week was a grain version from Iceland called Reyka. I am still not sure that the brand, or even base material for the mash, makes much difference when it comes to vodka in cocktails, but this one has a really impressive label. If that means anything.

One of the things I cited as a lesson after our first year of this blog is that it makes a difference who you are sharing the drink with. We were very fortunate to be able to meet one of my sisters, her husband and my nephew in Asheville for the weekend and as a result shared the cocktail with them. It was, as I suspected, an affirmation of the lesson and that much better for the sharing.

There were actually two versions of the cocktail, as anyone who has paid attention should know. The first version used the Crabbie’s and I made a second with Blenheim ginger ale. Both drinks showcase the ginger with the ginger beer version more complex and the lime less prominent. The lime stood out in the Blenheim mix and the ginger, while stronger, did not have the background depth of the Crabbie’s. Push come to shove, I liked the Blenheim version better, but probably because the lime stood out and offered a contrast.

Jonathan’s take: Mule or buck, ale or beer, Borgarnes (Iceland) or Moscow, none of it matters when the cocktail is this good.

David’s take: A Mule is well-worth riding, copper cups or no.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

Some of our regular tailgaters, my son David and his friend Trevor, asked if they could suggest a drink. Interestingly it is very similar to the Moscow Mule especially since they didn’t know that was what we were trying this week. They have proposed the Dark ‘N Stormy, another mule/buck using spiced rum, typically Gosling’s. I already tried different versions of the Moscow Mule so I imagine this week will offer more chances to mix up the ginger ale and beer to see how that changes things.

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Drinking Out

Proposed by: Davidphoto-85

Reviewed by: Jonathan

Letting someone else mix your drink, I’ve discovered, isn’t so bad. You needn’t worry about imposing on your brother—the last person you’d want to impose upon—and there’s usually company, a welcome meeting of friends, the celebration of reconnecting.

This weekend, Jonathan and I went out. On my half, his friend Jerry Beamer and his wife Jean were visiting Chicago, and so we met at Epic, a restaurant downtown known as a “spot,” a place to get good food and good cocktails and good conversation. All of which we more than achieved. The evening went by in a blur, but it was, in every possible way, a pleasant blur.

Jerry ordered an Effen Avocado just before we arrived, a combination of Effen Vodka (brilliantly named), avocado puree, lime, and agave nectar. I didn’t taste any, but Jerry reported satisfaction, a pleasing combination of weight and spirit.

At dinner, Beth tried a G6, a combination of St. Germaine, agave nectar, and prosecco. Jerry’s wife Jean chose Crimson Love, Ketel One Vodka infused with lemon and lime, solerno—a blood orange liqueur—actual blood orange puree, and Aperol.

Jerry and I both decided on The Epic Mule, the restaurant’s variation on the Moscow Mule, served, appropriately and necessarily, in a copper cup and featuring—the deviation—tarragon simple syrup. With vodka and ginger beer and lime, it seemed refreshing, almost (not quite) like the water that accompanied the meal. I have to think that’s the whole point of metal vessels, to make you think you’re drinking from a spring with a ladle… though water never tasted so good.

For the second round, Jerry ordered more of the same, except that he substituted bourbon for vodka, and I had to follow suit. That drink, in my humble opinion, surpassed the first, with the complication of an amber spirit replacing the directness of clear. I hadn’t thought of adding lime to whiskey, but the combination was perfect, just as refreshing but more complex. It made me want to invent more lime-bourbon drinks.

The food was wonderful too.

All in all, the evening couldn’t have been better. Good history, good food, and good cocktails. Fun, I hope, for all, a reminder we must stick together. Company enhances cocktails, but ultimately communing with friends is why we’re here, to celebrate the warm connections we’ve made.

Here’s Jonathan’s account:

out

This week was a short break from making our own cocktails, but not a break from unique drinks. Thanks to Jerry and Jean’s (Bourbon Jerry and Jean-Baby to me) visit to Chicago it was a chance to try out the cocktail scene in our respective cities. And in that trying out, it gave us a chance to go to a part of Charlotte that we don’t visit often.

A simple Google search of best cocktails led me to Heist Brewery which seemed odd since one would assume that they would concentrate on beer. Bad assumption. Their menu includes interesting food with a local farm to fork emphasis served in small portions to encourage tasting a number of items. Added to that is their large and small batch micro-brews, beer cocktails, and what they term “craft cocktails.” They are located in a part of Charlotte that was formerly an area of textile mills and the accompanying mill village. What used to be a simple blue collar area is now a unique part of town that is home to micro-breweries, restaurants, live music clubs, and an interesting mix of housing.

We tried a couple of those cocktails and intended to try two of the beer cocktails. Many, many years ago our family made a stop in San Angelo, Texas. I have no idea how we ended up there and why but there are two things I remember about San Angelo – a train museum and horned frogs (or horny toads as we called them). La Marque had an occasional horned frog, but San Angelo was lousy with them.

That is all my way of explaining why I chose the one of Heist’s classics, the Horny Toad. It is made with Hornito’s tequila, jalapeño agave syrup, elderflower liqueur, fresh sour mix, a dash of Cholula and is garnished with jalapeño and lime slices. My wife had a Texas Mule made with Tito’s, vodka, fresh lime juice, and Heist made ginger beer served in the classic tin mule cup over crushed ice.

Both drinks were excellent and unique, but the Horny Toad stood out. First, it was beautiful in a way that none of my drinks seem to be. Second, the fusion of flavors made it spicy but not, and tart but not. It was perfectly refreshing and unique. The Texas Mule was also really good, especially the ginger beer, but the Toad was so assertive it made the Mule seem a little too calm.

And those beer cocktails? Debbie made her second drink a Horny Toad after tasting mine, and I couldn’t go to a brewery, stare at the brewing room, and not try a beer. Opting for their Porter to go with our small plates, I made another excellent decision. Thanks to Heist, it was an evening of them.

One more recommendation. It was National Pretzel Day on Saturday (we found that out later) so it was only fitting that our best small plate was beer cheese with soft, freshly baked pretzel sticks. That and a Horny Toad and you can’t go wrong.

Jonathan’s take: There is an art to true cocktails. It may have an odd name, but Heist’s Horny Toad proved that

David’s take: Hail to the mule… and visitors.

Next week (proposed by Jonathan):

I don’t know if it is my proposal or David’s, but next week is the Kentucky Derby so we’re having Mint Juleps. I have already ordered a couple of julep cups, stocked a new bourbon, and made mint simple syrup. Jerry, that cocktail trying fool that he is, will be here to try them with us and I can’t wait!