Mule Train: Searching the Capital City for an Old Classic

By April Blake
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Most things we enjoy are nothing more than the results of schemers sitting around a board room or a bar room, trying to figure out a way to push a product, and that’s certainly nothing new.

Back in 1941, three men were said to be sitting at the now-shuttered Cock ‘n Bull restaurant in Los Angeles, griping about how they weren’t able to move their products. Two of the men were John G. Martin of G.F. Heublein Brothers, Inc., and Rudolph Kunett, spirits distributors who were trying to introduce Americans to the Russian potato juice known as vodka. Another was Jack Morgan, owner of the restaurant and president of a company that produced sodas, who was weary of hawking his snappy ginger beers. After some drinks and a little old-fashioned bar stool what-iffing, the Moscow Mule was thrust unto the world — the name coming, of course, after the men had downed a few themselves.

Comprised of three simple ingredients, the Moscow Mule is a drink that has waned in and out of fashion through the years since its inception. A classic mule is made up of vodka, ginger beer and a few slices of squeezed lime. Ginger beer is not the same as ginger ale, in that it possesses a fuller, spicier quality.

Even with so few ingredients, a Mule’s flavor and kick can vary greatly. The Mule at Motor Supply Co. has a grapefruit note to it – bartender Josh Streetman had the Goya brand Jamaican style ginger beer on hand, and noted that it had an intense dryness, lending an unusual but refreshing quality.

A short wander away, The Mamas and the Tapas showcases its version of the Mule in the classic copper mug. Other than the long-concocted sales scheme, the reason for the copper mug is that the acidity of the lime juice is said to react with the copper, giving the drink its signature “kick.” Not all bartenders believe the story of the marketing ploy gone right, however. While I was enjoying the fresh and clean beverage of the hour, bartender Tripp (who wouldn’t give me his last name) wove this incredibly believable but likely untrue tale: “A man went up a mountain on a mule with a secret recipe and it was hard to get across the mountain and he was a lonely guy who carried the one thing in his family’s legacy, the Moscow Mule. As for the copper mug … it was my idea.”

The mule at The Mamas and the Tapas has a fresh and clean taste, with the fresh ginger shining through in the Gosling’s ginger beer it uses. It also has Reed’s Ginger Beer on hand here, but for reasons Tripp refused to disclose due to his confidentiality agreement with the aforementioned lonely mountain guy, the Gosling’s tends to be the more popular choice.

While the quality of the vodka is important to prevent a hangover after imbibing too many of these refreshing cocktails, the more powerful flavors from the other two ingredients keep the need for top-shelf liquor down considerably, making the Mule an excellent choice for those nights where your wallet’s level of sophistication isn’t quite on par with that of your palate.

In addition to the abovementioned watering holes, Pearlz Oyster Bar, Takosushi and Pasta Fresca also feature Mules on their cocktail lists. Despite Mules being a classic drink, few menus in Columbia list them, but any seasoned bartender should know how to create the drink. With summer heat lingering on the horizon, this thirst quencher will be an easy and welcome accessory to the famous warmth headed to our city.

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