There are really only two differences between a vodka soda and a Moscow Mule. First, mules are made with ginger beer in lieu of soda, and second, the Moscow Mule belongs to Oprah—it's her favorite cocktail.
Given Oprah's full-throated endorsement, it's unusual that so few Portland bars list mules on their menus. Simply asking for one, more often than you might think, may stump your bartender. This may seem strange seeing as mules (ginger beer mixed with any spirit) have been around forever, and the Moscow Mule since the 1940s.
According to The Gilt Club's Jamie Dunn, the Moscow Mule was dreamt up as a collaborative marketing scheme by a struggling ginger beer manufacturer (the now estimable Cock 'n' Bull) and a vodka distributor trying to find a place in a Cold War world for his "white whiskey" (Smirnoff).
It worked. Traditionally served in a copper mug, the drink was a smash. And Dunn adds that those mugs were simply another marketing gimmick designed to dazzle patrons.
Still, despite the city's shortage of Moscow Mules on bar menus, you can find them if you belly up to the right bar. And if you're lucky, your bartender will doctor them, giving your mule an inspired spin.
The Woodsman Tavern
The Woodsman Tavern's traditional Moscow Mule
The mules prepared by Ed Villareal, The Woodsman's bow-tied, bespectacled bartender, are unflashy and traditional, yet they're built with distinctive flavors, like Monopolowa, the Polish-born, Austrian-produced potato vodka, and Britain's cloudy, slightly-floral-yet-not-too-sweet Fever-Tree Premium Ginger Beer. Of course, each gets a splash or two of fresh lime juice, conservatively squeezed, before the whole shebang is gently stirred with a long, silver spoon. A superb substitute for your usual refreshers (vodka soda or gin and tonic), The Woodsman's Moscow Mules taste bucolic, the way a hot summer afternoon feels once it's been cooled by an early evening storm.
The Woodsman Tavern, 4537 SE Division St., 971.373.8264
The Gilt Club
The Gilt Club adds it's touch to the Mule with house made ginger beer.
Of all the bars that do
serve Moscow Mules, The Gilt Club is one of the few that serves them in copper mugs. Dunn suggests the mule's presentational dearth can be linked back to Oprah. Before she told the world that the Moscow Mule was her new jam, nobody considered stealing Dunn's mugs. Now, he says, those mugs walk out the door once or twice a month, and sometimes more. But it's not the mug that gives this mule its distinct taste. Rather, it's the hidden flavors of The Gilt Club's signature housemade ginger beer, comprised of, among other things, star anise, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Plus, as a coup de maître
, it's finished with a sprinkling of freshly and finely grated ginger. Enjoy one, but don't ruin it for everyone else. Leave your mug on the table.
The Gilt Club, 306 NW Broadway St., 503.222.4458
Central's Mezcal Mule is a refreshing drink with a smokiness that lingers
The way Central owner Dustin Knox and bartender Daniel Osborne figure it, why settle for a Moscow Mule when you can experience something much more singular. Mules, they say, are whatever we want them to be—it's the ginger beer that makes a mule a mule. Swap out the spirit and you completely change the drink. Their Mezcal Mule is pretty much what it sounds like: single village Oaxacan mezcal, lime juice and Blenheim Ginger Ale, imported from the Palmetto state. Normally, ginger ale won't fly, but if the chosen spirit and the bartending craftsmanship have integrity, it can work. Central's mules, served in antique glasses rescued from estate sales, are sweetened with just a dash of demerara simple syrup, which just cuts through the mezcal's smokiness. And really, it's more of a scratch than a cut because, as you'll soon notice, that smokey flavor will linger inside you—all of you, not just your mouth—and follow you around all night in a way that is far from unpleasant.
Central, 220 SW Ankeny St., 503.719.7918
The Old Gold
The Old Gold Mule is made with Brew Dr. White Rose Kombucha.
The O.G. Mule is, when you examine it closely, neither a Moscow Mule, nor even a mule in general. What is it then? A shot of Monopolowa, built with ice, pressed (not muddled) whole mint leaves and fresh lime juice, topped off with Old Gold's draught Brew Dr. White Rose Kombucha, courtesy of Townshend's Tea Company. Cloudy (from the kombucha) and probably more comparable to a mojito than a mule, the O.G. Mule's citrus and kombucha will give your body a little extra lift as it wrestles with the vodka for your attention. In fact, the white rose kombucha blend will get your blood flowing as it simultaneously lowers its pressure. So if you weren't already relaxed, both the vodka and the kombucha should do the trick.
The Old Gold, 2105 N Killingsworth St., 503.894.8937
Interurban's Kentucky Mule is dangerously smooth on a warm day
Interurban will fix you up an archetypal mule with Cock 'n' Bull, no less. But what if you're a whiskey guy or gal? Then, try a Kentucky Mule. Stir in some fresh lime juice, and the mule is a variation on the stridently named Sword Fight (Cock 'n' Bull mixed with 103-proof Fighting Cock Bourbon). Oddly, the ginger beer and lime cloak the bourbon on your first sip, and it almost tastes like a traditional Moscow Mule. But you'll know the sweet, sweet bourbon taste once that first swallow goes down. Bar manager Jeremy Mielen says Interurban's vision is to be the quintessential neighborhood bar, meaning the folks behind it are there to chat with you and answer all of your questions—so ask about the bar's unique ice program, which is enthusiastically promoted whilst not talking down to you. And since Interurban's mules are served in copper mugs, it should go without saying... leave yours at the bar.
Interurban, 4057 N Mississippi Ave., 503.284.6669
Do you drink Moscow Mules (or a variation)? Who makes your favorite? And who makes your favorite cocktails in general, and what are they? We'd love to know.