Explorations in Mixology Cocktails Drinking

A Moscow Mule with Grapefruit?

Some of you who watch the reality cooking competition show called Top Chef may have been enjoying this season which takes place in Las Vegas. Yesterday’s Elimination Challenge pitted the men against the women to provide food parings with cocktail shots at a bachelor and bachelorette party. One of the shots was a Moscow Mule.

First of all, is the Moscow Mule a shot? It could be, if you served a small portion in a shot glass. By that logic, anything could be a shot. How about a Cosmopolitan shot, or a beer shot? Be that as it may, the question isn’t about the size of the drink but that it was made using grapefruit juice. It’s not that we don’t think it would taste good—on the contrary—it could be a good combination. We just don’t think it’s a Moscow Mule.

Recently attributed to Hollywood in 1941, the invention of the Moscow Mule is believed to have been concocted to sell more vodka at the time. The drink was a hit and quickly spread around town. Within a few years it was popular throughout the southwest and it is now recognized for starting the vodka craze of the 1950s. Sometimes served in a copper mug, the typical recipe for the drink is as follows:

Moscow Mule
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh lime juice
4 ounces ginger beer

Pour vodka and lime juice into an ice-filled highball glass and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge.

UPDATE: For an even better Moscow Mule, try making your own ginger syrup by following my recipe on this page. . .

By the way, there’s a big difference between ginger beer and your typical “airplane beverage” ginger ale. If you are going to make the Moscow Mule (and you really should—they are delicious) you will need to find yourself some decent ginger beer. The best way is probably to make your own (see other post for a recipe). However, here in the Twin Cities it’s easy enough to find Reed’s Ginger Beer at your local Trader Joe’s or one of the better grocery stores. The biggest difference between good ginger beer and ginger ale is the heat. Ginger ale is basically a sugar-fest that is mildly reminiscent of ginger, whereas ginger beer really brings out the root flavor and the heat.

There have been variations on the garnish with this drink over the years. Most use the lime wedge, but a few call for lemon, and one bar in the 1950s even used cucumber. The cucumber may have been borrowed from the Pimm’s Cup, which is also sometimes served in a metal mug. There are also disagreements over the proportions of ingredients but the spirit is always vodka, with lime and ginger beer.

This leaves us wondering where the couple on the TV show got the idea of calling a vodka-grapefruit-ginger shot a Moscow Mule. We suspect someone tried to make them a ginger-flavored shot somewhere and told them it was like a Moscow Mule. Of course, when you are doing a bunch of shots, who cares? Right? What is clear is that they have the wrong name, and we feel a little sad for the misinformation that was spread amongst the attendees and, of course, all of the fans of Top Chef.

Still, the grapefruit version is not without merit. It’s certainly not going to have the same sweet and sour combination that you get from the ginger beer and lime, but it will still have the kick from the ginger. In fact, the grapefruit might be a little smoother and turn more of your attention toward the ginger. I guess it’s time to go pickup some grapefruit!

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8 years ago

I found your post while trying to find the recipe for a “ruby red mule” that I had in a restaurant. I eventually found their recipe and all it has in it is ruby red grapefruit vodka and ginger beer, garnished with a large slice of grapefruit. I would have guessed there were more ingredients – it tasted more complex than that. Does that still count as a mule?

Mule or not, it was tasty. Thank you for the information about ginger beers – I’ll be sure to look for a decent one when I’m trying to recreate it.