Ginger might not look like much—it rarely blooms, instead producing only green, reedy stalks three to four feet tall with strappy leaves—but its root is one of the world’s oldest spices. A native of China and India, ginger was an important part of ancient Chinese medicine and was adopted for medicinal use in Europe after arriving on the earliest trading routes. It has been used to flavor beer since the Middle Ages and adds a note of heat and spiciness to herbal liqueurs, bitters, and vermouth. Domaine de Canton, Snap, and the King’s Ginger are just a few modern liqueurs that add a bite of ginger to cocktails.
The Moscow Mule, invented in 1941 by a vodka distributor, not only put ginger beer to good use but also introduced Americans to vodka, helping sales of Smirnoff triple in just a few years. It is traditionally served in a copper mug, but this is merely a marketing gimmick. The story goes that a vodka distributor and a bartender concocted this drink to make use of the bartender’s unsold ginger beer and to jump-start vodka sales. Apparently the bartender’s girlfriend owned a company that manufactured copper mugs, so her product became part of the recipe, too.
Fill a copper mug or highball glass with ice. Squeeze the lime over the ice and drop it in the glass. Add the vodka and simple syrup, if desired, and fill the glass with ginger beer.
11⁄2 ounces vodka
1 teaspoon simple syrup (optional)
1 bottle ginger beer (Try Reed’s or another natural, not-too-sweet ginger soda)