The concept of a cocktail “family” is pretty arbitrary. In some cases it represents a clear link between cocktails. For example, a Watermelon Collins is simply a (Tom) Collins with the addition of watermelon. In other cases the link is more tenuous. As you’ll rapidly discover should you expect every cocktail with the word “Martini” in its title to have anything in common. The Mule Family belongs to the former category.
Any cocktail with the word “Mule” in its name can reasonably be expected to consist of a base spirit with lemon/lime juice, topped up with ginger beer or ale. And to belong to the Long and Serious taste profile. Mules frequently also include a dash of bitters, and may include several other ingredients too.
So far, so good.
Mule Family Issues
However, as is typical of the cocktail world, things are never quite so simple. To start with there are cocktails which share the description above which are not called “Mules”. The best example of this is a Dark and Stormy. And while some people might try to class a Dark and Stormy as a Mule Variant, it’s not a label which sticks easily. After all, the Dark and Stormy is several decades older than the Moscow Mule and has likely always been of greater popularity. That’s like saying that a grandparent takes after their grandson and not the other way around.
Then there are the Bucks. What are Bucks? They are a family of cocktails which consist of a base spirit with lemon/lime juice, topped up with ginger beer or ale. In other words, identical to the Mules. And like the Dark and Stormy, the Bucks were around for decades before the Moscow Mule was created. In fact, the terms “Buck” and “Mule” are pretty much interchangeable. Ask a bartender for a “Vodka Buck” and you’ll get a Moscow Mule.
So why do we now call them Mules not Bucks? Probably because the Bucks went out of fashion and were almost forgotten. Then the Moscow Mule was created and was driven into public consciousness by an innovative marketing campaign. Bartenders may have remembered what the Buck was, but the public forgot. So it became easier to describe a new cocktail of this family as being a Mule. More likely to sell.
Simple Mule Variants
The Moscow Mule is a vodka based Mule/Buck. So when starting to consider its variants the simplest are going to be ones where we swap out the plain vodka for something else. And perhaps alter the other ingredients slightly to compensate. There are two categories here.
The first are the ones taking a completely different base spirit. The Dark and Stormy can be thought of as a Mule based on Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. It uses lime juice instead of lemon as lime goes better with rum. Whereas the London Buck (AKA The Buck, the Gin Buck, and the Ginger Rogers) is gin based and so uses lemon juice. It also often uses ginger ale over ginger beer and frequently omits the bitters. Less famous Mules or Bucks may be based on other spirits, such as Bourbon, Scotch, Cognac, Tequila or Pisco, for example.
The second group of simple Mule Family variants change out the plain vodka for a flavoured one, keeping everything else the same. A good example of this the the Mango Mule made in one of the bars I used to work in. It is made exactly like a Moscow Mule, just using mango flavoured vodka (Absolut Mango) instead of regular. There are plenty of options for experimentation here, with the plethora of flavoured vodkas now on the market.
Complex Mule Variants
Maybe “complex” isn’t the right word since they honestly aren’t very complicated. But the complex Mule variants make more changes and additions than the straight swap of the simple ones.
A good example is the Apple Buck. This Mule/Buck variant is based on Calvados (or Applejack), and uses an apple liqueur and pressed apple juice in addition to lime juice and ginger ale.
A more extreme example is the Dead Man’s Mule. This uses Absinthe and Golschläger (cinnamon schnapps) as its spirit base with orgeat (almond syrup), lime juice and ginger beer. I’m not entirely certain whether it is supposed to raise the dead or cause the dead, but is well named either way.
Or how about Difford’s very own Prickly Pear Mule. This uses a pear brandy, Poire William and muddled pear along with lemon juice, bitters and ginger beer.
This is an excellent area for experimentation.
Ingredients and Method
The basis of all Mules/Bucks is to use: two shots of whatever spirit you’re using; the freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime; an optional dash of Angostura Bitters; and ginger beer or ale to top. They should always be served tall, which dictates your measurements.
There are two general methods for making any Mules/Bucks. Built and muddled. Both are acceptable. Both use the same ingredients. The only difference is how you add the fresh lime/lemon juice. If you have access to a Mexican Elbow then I’d advise the Built method – it’s far more efficient. But if you don’t then the muddled method is fine. Either way, start with a highball glass or similar.
For the built method, start by filling it with cubed ice. Pour in *some* ginger beer/ale – maybe one third of the glass full. Then add: a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters; two shots of your spirit(s); and the freshly squeezed juice of half a lime/lemon (to taste). Then top up with ginger beer/ale, give it a very quick stir and serve. Very simple, and easy to scale up to making it by the jug if needed.
For the muddled method, drop your sliced pieces of lime/lemon (still usually 1/2 a lime/lemon) into the glass along with any other fruit you want to use. If you’re using it, add your sugar or other flavoured syrup at this point too. Muddle them together. Then fill the glass with crushed ice. This is far easier to churn than cubed ice, and with pieces of fruit stuck to the bottom of the glass, you’ll need to churn. Then add all of the same other ingredients as before, churn and serve. This method is similar to the way you would make a Mojito. It has the similar drawback that you have to make each one individually. Plus it takes more time and effort. Because of this it is not my preferred method, but still works just fine.