If you're anything like us, you love the Moscow Mule. And, if you love the Moscow Mule as much as we do, you want to learn how to make it perfectly, every time. In this post, we answer a common question: what is the best vodka to use to make the Moscow Mule?
When it comes to putting cocktails together, there tends to be a lot of room for error. Precise combinations of meticulously measured ingredients that interact with each other in very carefully considered ways make it so that, if you happen to use the wrong brand or amount, you’ll likely end up with a very nasty drinking experience.
But what about when we’re talking about a cocktail, like the Moscow Mule, that literally only includes three ingredients? You might think it would be hard to mess up something so simple, but the risk is considerably higher. You want to make sure that the ingredients that make up one third of the entire drink are all high quality and delicious to ensure that your cocktail is as delicious as it can be.
The gingery, somewhat spicy kick of the Moscow Mule is made up of three ingredients: vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. It’s a super approachable cocktail in terms of its preparation, and the flavor combinations result in a zesty, delicious, refreshing drinking experience. Each ingredient is, of course, of utmost importance here, but the alcoholic spirit is the very heart of the drink. Swap out the vodka and you get an entirely different type of Mule altogether (and there are countless variations, such as the Tennessee Mule, which replaces vodka for bourbon). But there’s something about the clearheadedness of vodka that beautifully complements the kick from the ginger beer, resulting in a well-rounded and deeply satisfying drink.
Vodka and the Moscow Mule
In fact, the relationship between vodka and the Moscow Mule is so strong that it is believed that the cocktail is directly responsible for the popularity of vodka in the US. Though vodka had been around for a while, it didn’t really catch on until the 1950s, when the Moscow Mule made its way out of the Sunset Strip and took off in popularity nation-wide. Suddenly, everybody was talking about the alcoholic spirit, and its use eventually extended way beyond the copper mug. Yes, vodka makes the Moscow Mule, but the Moscow Mule also made vodka.
However, as you know, not all vodkas are the same. There are subtle nuances that distinguish different brands of vodka, and they each bring something unique to the Moscow Mule. There are differences in flavor profile, mouth feel, aftertaste, and alcohol content that make choosing the right vodka part of the experience of “designing” your cocktail experience. And while purists may cling to the mighty Smirnoff (and we rightfully doff our cap to the legendary vodka maker), there’s an entire world of different vodkas to choose from, each offering their own contributions to the beloved Moscow Mule.
What Makes Good Vodka?
But wait. What makes vodka "good," anyway? Why is one bottle of the clear spirit supposed to be better than the other? And what do we look out for when we sample it?
As you may know, vodka is a fermented starch (most commonly made from grains or potatoes), which goes through a process of distillation to become the mostly-odorless, mostly-flavorless concentrated liquor we know and love today. Vodka is a "rectified spirit," which means that it is often distilled at least three times. Often, especially with higher-end products, this number is a lot higher, and marketing teams will make it a point to advertise the amount of times the product has been distilled; this is because the product is cleaner and smoother the more times it is distilled, as impurities are removed with each trip through the still.
So, the difference between a high-end product and a low-end one will come down to the amount of attention and effort that is put into its creation. Not only is the amount of distillations a factor, the water that is used is also a major point. This is why many brands will advertise the fact that they use mountain spring water or other clean sources to create a clean, smooth vodka.
With that in mind, we’ll be listing the best vodka for Moscow Mules and going over their differences and what they bring to the table. This way, you can be prepared when it comes to crafting your cocktail. Let’s get right to it.
Since we want to keep things as varied as possible, our list includes vodkas from various price points and budgets. That said, we're going to start things off with this luxury vodka. Absolut Elyx isn't only a smooth, delicious spirit, it also comes in an absolutely gorgeous bottle to look at which will be a welcome addition to your collection. And, it fits nicely with the Moscow Mule theme; Moscow Mules are traditionally served in copper mugs, and Absolut Elyx is distilled in a manually operated copper column still. Buy it for its silky, full-bodied palate, and keep it for its gorgeous packaging.
Speaking of beautiful packaging, here’s another pretty bottle for your booze rack that happens to be filled with an incredible product. Hawaii-based Ocean Vodka Organic Farm and Distillery boasts that its product is "the only vodka in the world distilled from organic sugar cane and blended with deep ocean mineral water;" this means that it is completely gluten-free and contains no GMOs, herbicides, or pesticides, resulting in a clean and pure drinking experience. Its smooth, slightly sweet finish will beautifully complement the kick of the ginger beer in your Moscow Mule.
Everyone knows Grey Goose. Even if you’re not a vodka drinker, you’ve likely heard that name. It'd be hard to put together a list like this and not mention one of the most deservedly famous vodka makers on the planet. The French vodka has made its way into the hearts of people from all over the world with its sweet, round taste; the maker uses single origin Picardie wheat as well as water from a natural limestone well in France, which contributes to its characteristic boldness. There are several variations of the vodka, but for Moscow Mules, you just can't go wrong with the original.
"Luksusowa" is literally Polish for "luxury," and the Polish vodka maker's faith in its own product is well placed. Made with potatoes in Poland, Luksusowa vodka’s flavor profile is mild and clean; instead of hogging the spotlight, Luksosowa is happy to take a backseat to the zestier taste of the ginger beer and lime juice. The texture is what really sets it aside; as a potato vodka, it adds a good amount of creaminess to the body of your Moscow Mule.
Hangar 1 is the result of a group of enterprising individuals taking a look at what was available on the market and thinking "we can do better." They took matters into their own hands and created a vodka that blends grapes with Midwestern grains to create a floral, fruity flavor profile with a viscous mouthfeel. This is not a tame vodka. Hangar 1’s flavor profile is big and easily recognizable; it will add a decadent twist to your Moscow Mule.
St George Green Chile
If you want to add to the spicy bite of the ginger beer in your Moscow Mule, a good choice is St. George Green Chile Vodka, which is made from a variety of California-grown hot and sweet peppers including jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, and red and yellow bell peppers. The result is a sweet, savory vodka experience that is surprisingly deep, vibrant, and invigorating. Your Moscow Mule will kick a little stronger than usual with this bold, zesty vodka product. But who doesn’t like a bit of a kick from time to time?
Chopin vodka is a small-batch, boutique product that takes its name from the famous Romantic composer. Unlike Chopin's Nocturnes, this vodka won't put you in a soporific or melancholy mood. It's rich and weighty on the palate, with a smooth finish that'll pair perfectly with the ginger beer in your Moscow Mule. The Polish maker claims that seven pounds of potatoes are used to make each bottle of Chopin vodka. We don’t know if there is any way to independently verify this, but there is a richness and full, creamy smoothness to the finished product that makes this claim easy to believe.
Carbonadi is an ultra-premium, top-shelf vodka from Italy that falls towards the top of the price range in this list. It is made from organic wheat, distilled a whopping five times, and passed through a filtration process that utilizes black diamonds with super absorbent properties. It has a very smooth finish, and its flavor profile has faint citrusy notes that cut through the smoothness. As far as how it will work in your Moscow Mule, it is possible that it might counteract the spice of the ginger a bit, but it's a small price to pay for its decadent smoothness. If you're anything like us and think that being able to tell your guests "this vodka was filtered through black diamonds" is inherently cool, then this is the choice for you.
Speaking of inherently cool facts about your booze that you can throw out there to impress your party guests, Iceland's Reyka vodka is made from arctic glacial water and filtered through Icelandic lava rocks at a distillery that is powered by geothermal energy from underground volcanoes. That's pretty cool. This hand-crafted, small-batch product has a very well-balanced flavor profile, which works to round out the Moscow Mule, providing more depth of flavor and texture. It has a touch of lemon and a bit of sweetness to it. Reyka vodka isn’t necessarily as bold or forward as some of the other choices in this list, nor is it as smooth and passive as others. What it is is a slick, full-bodied vodka with a bit of a peppery burn that will add to the overall character of your Moscow Mule cocktail.
Prairie Organic Spirits
Prairie Organic Spirits' vodka is a great option for a couple of reasons. First, it's an absolutely delicious vodka, with hints of melon and pear, a creamy palate, and a smooth finish. Secondly, it is grown organically and free from any harmful GMOs, herbicides or pesticides, which means the good people at Prairie Organic are looking out for your health. And finally, Prairie Organic donates 1% of all sales to the Spirit of Change Fund, to support more farmers going organic. So, this is a delicious, creamy, slightly fruity vodka that will go beautifully with the ginger and lime in a Moscow Mule, is produced organically, and is helping in efforts to support organic farming. Sounds like a win-win-win.
There are certain vodka brands that make a big deal about the amount of times their product has been distilled. Purity Vodka, as the name implies, is one of those products. And while we have some built-up cynicism for this marketing tactic, the result in this case is an exceedingly good vodka; Purity’s 34 rounds of distillation may have little to do with its smoothness or its hints of lime and nougat, but it’s still a cool factoid to throw out. It pairs beautifully with the citrusy, ginger flavors in a Moscow Mule.
If you’re well-versed in Japanese cuisine (or you remember that classic Simpsons episode), you know “fugu” is the name of a Japanese delicacy; a potentially deadly pufferfish that leaves behind a satisfying numbness in the lips when prepared correctly. This is similar to the effect that a good Moscow Mule should leave you with. This is a sophisticated, creamy vodka experience that works great as a cocktail base or as a "sipper."
Russian Standard is what you might call an "entry-level" vodka, and it is priced thusly. So this is a great choice for someone on a tighter budget, because it’s cheap but still very good quality. A great example of what a wheat vodka should be, filtered through charcoal and quartz crystal. It is grainy and neutral, and a solid choice for cocktails precisely because of its openness and versatility.
BLK EYE Vodka
BLK EYE Vodka is one of the most recent entries on our list. As a relative newcomer to the vodka game, they’re still relatively low profile, but that should be changing any day now: their product is truly remarkable. And though their marketing may smell of gimmickry -- it’s another one of those vodkas that makes a big deal about the amount of times it’s been distilled -- the end result is undeniable; it is a lush, well-rounded drinking experience, with complex flavor combinations of nuts, cream, and vanilla. This vodka is distilled from black-eyed peas from Muleshoe, Texas; of course, the name of its place of origin makes it fitting for the Moscow Mule, as does its surprisingly satisfying flavor and mouthfeel.
Wheatley is another entry-level vodka that is very accessible while also being extremely good quality. It's primarily a wheat-based vodka, but there are other grains that are used in its production. Wheatley Vodka is distilled in a "micro-still," triple-filtered and bottled at 82 proof. Its crisp, bright qualities tend to bring out the flavors in all the other ingredients that surround it, making it a great choice for inclusion in a cocktail such as a Moscow Mule.
CaskWerks premium vodka is a relatively new product from Tempe, Arizona, and it has built a reputation for itself as a good example of what vodka should be. Known for its smoothness and sweet finish, the spirit also has an openness to it that leads itself perfectly to its use in cocktails such as the Moscow Mule. For this reason, it is fast becoming a preferred choice for mixologists everywhere.
Ah, yes -- the mighty Stolichnaya. Or “Stoli,” as it is affectionately known by its loyalists. A company that's been around since the beginning of the 20th century, their vodka is a classic Russian go-to, and it feels completely appropriate to use in a Moscow Mule (even though the drink itself isn't technically from Russia). This wheat and rye based vodka has mineral and fruit peel aromas and a medium-bodied palate. As far as taste, price, and availability, Stolichnaya is one of the best vodkas you can find; it not only works great as a "sipper", but it's also fantastic as a cocktail base. Definitely a classic, well-trodden choice for a Moscow Mule, and with good reason.
So far on this list we've featured Polish vodkas, French vodkas, Russian vodkas, Icelandic vodkas and American vodkas, but this is our first vodka from Ireland. An Irish single malt vodka with an amazing texture and beautiful dark chocolate, butter, and fruit flavor notes that work wonderfully with the bright spiciness of ginger. The product is “finished in virgin oak casks and charred over an Irish peat fire.” This sublime combination will kick your Moscow Mule up a notch in terms of its flavor profile.
Tito's Handmade Vodka
Hey, speaking of classics, here’s a brand that’s quickly becoming one: Tito's Handmade Vodka has become one of the best-selling vodkas in the entire world. It's one of those drinks that "go with everything," this is an extremely smooth vodka with a bit of a sweet tang to it; silky, clean, and with a slightly hot finish that reminds you that you're drinking a spirit. Every batch is taste-tested to ensure quality. Tito's Handmade Vodka goes great with any cocktail, and is a remarkable deal for good quality American vodka. Their philanthropic work with dogs is a plus, and makes Tito’s a company that you really love to be able to support.
Crystal Head Vodka Aurora
There are a few reasons why we're ending our list with Crystal Head Vodka Aurora. Firstly, it's actually a wonderful vodka; don't let the celebrity figurehead fool you (the product was famously conceived by Dan Aykroyd), Crystal Head is a complex beast with hints of marshmallow sweetness, peppery and floral notes, and a delightfully spicy finish that pairs incredibly well with the rest of the ingredients in the Moscow Mule. The other reason? It has easily the coolest-looking bottle in this entire list, and that's no small accomplishment. So if you want to impress party guests with an incredible Moscow Mule cocktail while also blowing them away with a spooky iridescent skull bottle, this is really the only choice for you.
Best Flavored Vodka for Moscow Mules
We've talked about how one of the strengths of the Moscow Mule is its simplicity, and how these three main ingredients interact with each other to create a very special drinking experience. But if you want to kick things up a notch and add a certain level of complexity, you could also incorporate flavored vodka into the process. Here are three classic flavored vodkas for Moscow Mules that offer more shades of nuance to your drink.
Grey Goose La Vanille
We've discussed Grey Goose as one of our favorite vodka makers, and while their flagship product is the original recipe, La Vanille is a fantastic product in its own right. A sweet, creamy palate and the flavor of Madagascan vanilla beans bring a whole new dimension to the classic Mule.
Hanson of Sonoma Habanero
The Moscow Mule is famously spicy thanks to the "kick" from the ginger beer. But how about we bring that spiciness up even more? Hanson of Sonoma Habanero is infused with, as the name implies, habanero peppers. And though the name sounds daunting, this vodka doesn't go overboard with the spiciness; in fact, it's just the right amount of piquancy to bring some excitement to your drink without making your eyes water. It's not just spiciness, either; unlike the St. George vodka we listed earlier, this one has a much more obvious presence of the pepper flavors, as the sweet and savory habanero pairs wonderfully with the ginger and the lime juice.
St. George California Citrus Vodka
For a drink that so prominently features lime juice as one of its ingredients, pairing it with a citrus flavored vodka is a no-brainer. St. George California Citrus Vodka combines Valencia oranges, Seville oranges, and bergamot, all grown in California. It's a fruity product that has touches of bitters and herbaceous flavors which will provide your cocktail a hint of earthiness in addition to the sweetness.
After all of this, where do we land? There are so many great options available to make this classic drink, each adding their own dimensions and nuances to the Moscow Mule. Whether you're splurging on a deluxe brand or going with a more budget-friendly option, there are fantastic vodka choices at every price point. So which choices provide the best bang for your buck?
Well, if we're focusing on the price/quality relationship, our three choices are: Hangar One, with its big flavor profile and accessible price; Tito's, with its versatility and thorough quality testing; and Praire Organic Spirits, who not only produce a high-quality product but also donate 1% of all sales towards supporting organic farming, thus making our world a better place.
We hope this has been helpful! Once you have picked the best vodka for your Moscow Mule, consider taking your cocktail's presentation up a notch by equipping your kitchen with some authentic copper mugs. Cheers!