When dining out, isn’t it more tempting to try a new cocktail if it features a unique (as in, not the kind of thing you would keep in your refrigerator) ingredient? On a recent visit to an upscale restaurant, a group of friends became smitten upon tasting a ginger beer concoction. The spicy soda took center stage in the specialty drink of the evening, which several members of our party ordered. The subsequent outpouring of love for ginger beer in particular was pretty amusing, but further, it sparked an interesting conversation that marinated on nostalgic drinks and how refreshing it was to see the soda popping up in reinvented versions of cocktails.
Ginger Beer emerged on the cocktail scene as one of only two ingredients in the popular Dark ‘n’ Stormy libation, discovered in Bermuda by sailors during their travels up and down the east coast. Paired with Gosling’s Black Seal, ginger beer is the fizz, or the storm, to the thick, ebony-hued liquor. Gosling’s stipulates that this drink should be served over ice in a highball glass, with exactly 1.5 ounces of their signature rum to 4-5 ounces of ginger beer; a lime wedge for garnish, optional. A little known and often overlooked fact: The company went so far as to trademark the Dark ‘n’ Stormy name with the aforementioned proportions.
Less tempestuous but equally delicious, the Moscow Mule is another classic cocktail made with ginger beer. A mix of the brew, lime, and vodka, the drink gained notoriety in the 1940s and ‘50s, and was a favorite amongst the Hollywood set, having been developed in part by Jack Morgan, owner of the Cock’n Bull Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. A traditional “Mule” is served in a copper mug, with reasons unknown. There are many theories on this, ranging from science (proper oxidation) to sales (standout gimmick), and everything in-between.
The drink that sparked conversation amongst friends at dinner was, in fact, a unique spin on the original “Mule.” With muddled cucumber and an extra hit of flavor in the vodka, it made for a refreshing twist.
Back to Its Roots
Ginger beer originated in England in the mid-18th century and made its way to the United States and Canada soon thereafter. A blend of ginger, lemon juice, sugar, and water, fermented with an active culture like wine yeast, this ‘beer’ is surprisingly simple to produce at home. While earlier versions of the drink were made with more alcohol content, most of the current ones contain less than .5% to comply with FDA standards. The fermentation process gives a distinctive head to ginger beer when poured, indicative of the latter part of its name. Certain companies sell the brew unfiltered, so it has a cloudy appearance. Bottles of this type need to be inverted before serving in order to reincorporate any separation. Meanwhile, the more mainstream ginger ales are merely carbonated water, flavored with the pungent root.
With the seasons in limbo, the “Mule” variation that our party drank is the perfect transitional cocktail. The cucumber is bright and light like summer, while the ginger beer adds a warm and aromatic fall kick. I would love to see different takes on this recipe in bars & restaurants – and more ginger beer, in general!
Want to make your own “Mule” cocktail at home? Here’s a quick recipe:
Muddled Cucumber Mule Recipe
Ingredients (Makes 1 Drink)
1 Small Cucumber (Such as Mini or Kirby) OR 10-12 Slices Large Cucumber
2 Ounces Cucumber Vodka
6-8 Ounces Ginger Beer
Muddle the cucumber and lime. Add the muddled liquid to a glass filled with ice. If desired, the cucumber slices can be added at this point too (The drink is shown without in the photos). Pour in the vodka, and top with ginger beer. Garnish with a wedge of cucumber, or lime.