Vodka. The mere name evokes the sound of ice clinking, the hum of background conversation at a classy bar. For Moscow Mule drinkers, it also means the taste of a sophisticated cocktail. But just what makes the perfect Mule vodka? We know some of you may already be connoisseurs, but we’d like all our fans to be on equal footing. So let’s begin.
At its most basic, vodka is simply a fermented starch (most often using grains like corn or wheat, and in some places potato) that is then distilled into a more concentrated liquor. While the drink traces back hundreds of years to either Poland or a region in modern-day Russia (depending on whose history account you read), the Smirnoff brand that started in the 1860’s in Russia, and made its way to America in the 1930’s.
Like many other alcohols, the last few decades have seen a proliferation of vodka brands appear. With so much variety, consumers are left to wonder what sets premium vodka apart, aside from the price tag and pretty bottle.
Put simply, high-end vodka is made with more TLC. Where a cheaper vodka might be dashed out in as little as three steps (ferment, distill, dilute), premiums often have a more elaborate procedure. Before bottling, they will distill the liquor multiple times, filter it repeatedly– charcoal is a favorite flavor-enhancing medium – and go the extra mile to eliminate the harsh bite of ethanol by adding extra sugar, citric acid, or (in all countries but the U.S.) glycerin. Beyond the longer process, there’s also the use of higher-quality ingredients: heirloom potatoes, locally-sourced wheat, and in some cases grapes are even used.
We hope you don’t mind, but we’re going to do something taboo. We’re going to recommend using (eek!) different brands of vodka in your Moscow Mule. While purists cling to Smirnoff, the original spirit, today’s vodka market is huge and offers more variety than the post-prohibition-era when our favorite drink was born. So experiment. You may like the slightly oily mouth feel of Absolut, the more crisp bite of Stoli, or the fuller flavor of the potato-based Chopin. Or perhaps you’d like your vodka to align with your values – handcrafted American vodka is available from Hangar 1 (our personal favorite), Tito’s or dozens of smaller batch local distilleries. 360 touts itself as the first eco-friendly vodka, and there’s even brands that hype up their gluten-free status.
The issue ultimately distills down to this: any vodka that suits your mood (and your pocketbook) is a good base for your Moscow Mule, and offers the potential to create a unique flavor profile. Try them all out, and let us know in the comments below which vodka(s) you like best.