When most people think about drinking a cocktail, chances are they’re thinking about spending good times with friends, unwinding after a difficult day at the office, or getting started on a long night of debaucherous fun. Essentially, they’re using this sugary alcoholic drink as a means to an end: they want to develop a bit of a buzz, and cocktails represent a tasty and convenient way to do exactly that.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. But some of us like to think of these drinks as carrying the weight of their own history, having gone through all kinds of versions and permutations over decades of history as they get re-interpreted by countless people until finally reaching us in their present forms.
Yes, there is such a thing as a cocktail history nerd. Bet you didn’t know that.
The mighty Moscow Mule is one of those cocktails with a rich history behind it. A delicious concoction made up of vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer (more on that in a second!), the recipe reached a certain level of ubiquity before it started gradually fading from the memories of bar staff and patrons alike, now slowly building back up towards what appears to be a sort of Moscow Mule renaissance. Along the way, it picked up a number of alternate versions: a gin version, an Irish whiskey version, an absinthe version, etc. Each with their own catchy spin on the name. But the classic recipe remained intact: vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer.
Well… except it’s not intact. In fact, more and more the “ginger beer” portion of the recipe has been substituted for ginger ale. Why is that? And what difference does it make in the resulting drink? Well, in order to determine that, we must think about the role that ginger beer plays in Moscow Mules in the first place.
One of the most interesting things about the genesis of ginger beer is that it was born out of necessity. There was a long period of time where water was not safe to drink, and so the beer that was produced had to have high enough alcohol content to kill any bacteria. Alcohol being, well, alcohol, the resulting beers didn't taste great, and so ginger was added to the brewing process. Ginger anything is delicious, so it stood to reason that people would embrace this new invention of ginger beer. Fast forward several decades: potable water is a thing now, and ginger beer has fallen somewhat out of popularity, but many still enjoy it.
Ginger ale, however, is a whole other beast. For one, it is markedly sweeter -- ginger ale was developed as a way to capitalize on the soda-fountain craze, and so this sweetened, carbonated drink with ginger flavor became wildly popular among the general population. Unlike ginger beer, ginger ale is not brewed. It is essentially carbonated water with ginger syrup. It overtook the very alcohol-heavy ginger beer as the most famous ginger drink, favoring sweetness over the difficult, rich, almost-peppery taste of ginger beer.
Substituting ginger beer for ginger ale in a Moscow Mule makes a world of difference because, as you can probably imagine from the above descriptions, ginger beer and ginger ale are dramatically different drinks. While the classic recipe calls for ginger beer, the ginger ale provides an entirely new drinking experience, its sugary sweetness perfectly complimenting the lime juice and the kick from the vodka. It is an overall fizzier drink, much milder to the taste but also better suited for entertaining and sharing drinks with friends. Ginger beer is considerably spicier and more bitter, while the texture will also be flatter and less reminiscent of a classic soda-fountain soft drink.
It’s important to understand that, although this substitution is becoming more and more common, you are fundamentally altering the drink in every way that counts. Some people may prefer the fizzy sweetness of ginger ale in contrast to the harsher, spicier, murkier complexity of ginger beer, and that’s okay. There is space for both approaches, and it ultimately comes down to personal preference.
So, once you’ve decided that you’ll swap ginger beer out for ginger ale, which do you use?
First, let’s get the basics out of the way and cover how to make a Moscow Mule with ginger ale, because if you’re anything like us, you thought this was way more complicated than it ended up being.
This is what you’ll need to make a Moscow Mule with ginger ale:
You want to make sure to use good quality vodka, as the ginger and lime flavors are going to be dominating the mix. As unobtrusive as vodka can be, you also want to make sure that it's not too bland; we tend to favor Tito's brand vodka for Moscow Mules.
You want to squeeze your lime juice straight from fresh limes. No bottled lime juice, please -- though this rule should extend beyond Moscow Mules and into life in general.
As stated, this would traditionally be ginger beer, but we’ve established that we’ll be switching things up and going with the sweeter alternative. There are, of course, various ginger ale options to pick from, and we’ll be getting into that in a moment.
Combine half an ounce of lime juice and 2 ounces vodka in a copper mug. Top with ginger beer serve with a straw. Easy!
Now that we have the recipe out of the way, let’s tackle the topic of which ginger ale we should use for our Moscow Mule. Below are five great options.
Hotlips Real Roots Soda Ginger Ale: We’ll start this list off with our absolute favorite ginger ale. Everything that we can point to as a favorite quality -- from its sweet-tart balance to its overall heat level -- is also something that we can call an essential part of my Moscow Mule drinking experience. It’s the most well-balanced of all these products, and did the best job of making our Moscow Mule a great drinking experience. Hotlips Real Roots Soda was definitely our favorite of the traditional ginger ales.
Blenheimn Hot Ginger Ale: Next up, a ginger ale with a bit of a kick. Blenheim comes in three levels: Hot, Not as Hot, and Diet. The Hot ginger ale not only packs a punch (without going overboard on the heat level), but it is also absolutely delicious, with its sweet bubbly nature working almost as a trojan horse for the hot, pepper-y explosion that soon follows. Definitely a heat-forward ginger ale. The Not As Hot option is also great, but your Moscow Mule will definitely lose some of its punch. And if you’re looking to keep your Moscow Mule as low-calorie as possible, the Diet option is your best bet.
Boylan’s Bottling Ginger Ale: What makes Boylan's ginger ale stand out is its strong citrus flavor. Those tangy, fruity notes enhance the peppery flavor of ginger and help balance out the sweetness. Not only that, but they've managed to perfect the level of carbonation to the point where it feels exactly right for each drink you're fixing. Plus, Boylan's is so easily accessible that you won't have a problem finding this in most major grocery store chains in the country.
Canada Dry Ginger Ale and Lemonade: Speaking of easily available! Canada Dry has become all but synonymous with the term ginger ale; this citrusy twist on the ubiquitous classic can be found at virtually all major grocery stores. It is a combination of lemonade and ginger ale, which works surprisingly well when paired with vodka and lime juice. Yes, it is considerably milder than a lot of different types of ginger ale you can try, but it’s also a sugary classic that is absolutely undeniable.
R.W Knudsen Spritzer Ginger Ale: Knudsen’s ginger ale is surprisingly sweet, with clearer caramel notes and a much more subdued ginger taste than the other options listed here. It’s a fruitier ginger ale overall, and will liven up your Moscow Mule, but it is definitely the least ginger-forward of these options. You might want to skip this if you are looking for that classic ginger flavor.
Strawberry Moscow Mule with Ginger Ale
If you're feeling a little adventurous, you can try one of these twists on the classic Moscow Mule cocktail. The simplicity of this drink allows us to play around with ingredients and flavor profiles that match well with it. For example, we’ll be starting things off with this Strawberry Moscow Mule recipe. This bright, seasonal recipe is great for any occasion, and can even be turned into a non-alcoholic drink to share with family members of all ages.
This recipe is, of course, extremely straightforward! The first thing you need to do is muddle the strawberry. Once that's done, we add the ginger ale, some vodka, some simple syrup, and our lime juice. We stir together, add ice, garnish with some fresh mint, and voila! You've made a Strawberry Moscow Mule with ginger ale.
Apple Pie Moscow Mule with Ginger Ale
Here is another fruity twist on the Moscow Mule formula. This Apple Pie Moscow Mule uses apple juice as the base of the cocktail. It's sweet, but not overwhelmingly so; an autumnal take on the Moscow Mule tradition that will delight everyone lucky enough to be around when you're serving it.
Cinnamon-Infused Simple Syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 sticks cinnamon
Apple Pie Moscow Mule
2 oz. apple juice
3 oz. ginger ale
1 ½ oz. vodka
½ oz. lime juice, freshly squeezed
½ oz. cinnamon simple syrup
The first thing we're going to do is make a cinnamon-infused simple syrup. In a saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil, then remove from the heat. Then add in your cinnamon sticks and cover for anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours. Once the syrup has finished infusing and tastes cinnamon-y enough, strain and pour into a mason jar. Refrigerate until it's time to start making the cocktails.
Once you’ve got your cinnamon simple syrup, it’s just a matter of mixing everything together. Measure out the apple juice, ginger ale, vodka, lime juice, and cinnamon simple syrup in a copper mug (not required, of course, but that is the traditional Moscow Mule serving container). Stir up the ingredients with a spoon and top with some ice. That's it! Enjoy with friends and family.
Low Carb Moscow Mule with Ginger Ale
Finally for today, we're going to take a look at a low-carb Moscow Mule with Ginger Ale recipe. It might seem counter-intuitive to make a low-sugar version of such a sweet cocktail, but, with the right ingredients, you can pull it off!
For the Ginger Syrup:
1/2 cup peeled ginger, thinly sliced
2 cups water
1/3 cup granulated sugar substitute
For the Moscow Mule:
4 oz premium vodka
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz ginger syrup
8 oz diet ginger ale (the aforementioned Blenheim Diet is a good choice)
Fresh mint leaves to garnish
To make the ginger syrup, combine ginger, water and sweetener in a small saucepan. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, lower the heat to medium and let it simmer for ten minutes. Then cool for hour, strain, and store in a clean jar in the fridge. It lasts for up to 2 weeks.
To make the Moscow Mule, combine your vodka, lime juice, ginger syrup and ginger ale in a small pitcher. Make sure to stir well. Pour it over ice and garnish with a bit of fresh mint. To ensure a stronger mint flavor, smash the mint leaves in the bottom of the mug before drinking!