Moscow Mules have just three ingredients: vodka, ginger beer, and lime. A rubric that simple asks a lot of each player. The ginger beer should be spicy-sweet but not cloying, and the vodka needs enough structure to stand up to citrus and soda without any boozy burn.
Neutrality, of course, is vodka’s raison d’etre. The TTB defines it as a clear spirit “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.” But the spectrum of vodkas currently available in the United States spans crystal-clear spirits akin to water, those delicately reminiscent of grass, and, of course, plastic handles of cheap swill that taste how nail polish remover smells. Even in a cocktail, these differences are apparent.
To determine the best vodka for Moscow Mules, we made eight iterations using spirits of varying price points and origins. A panel of four drinks professionals tasted all cocktails blind. For consistency’s sake we used Bundaberg Ginger Beer across the board, and served all in rocks glasses. (Copper mugs are the traditional vessel for Mules, but we only had one in the office and worried its singular beauty would sway tasters.)
Our panel tasted noticeable differences among the Mules, ranging from black pepper to smoothness to something disconcertingly diet-soda-adjacent. These are the eight best vodkas for Moscow Mules, ranked.
Our least favorite option had a strong alcohol burn and made the drink taste “sharper and thinner” than the other Mules, according to one panelist. Average price: $10.
A strange, almost bitter aftertaste marked this one, which more than one panelist likened to upscale diet soda. The alcohol was also a bit more apparent than in other, smoother options. Average price: $20.
A generally crowd-pleasing Mule, this vodka had a very slight burn and lingering finish. “I taste the vodka more,” one panelist commented, but others felt it balanced the drink. Average price: $14.
“This tastes good!” one panelist commented. The Grey Goose Mule had minimal burn and pleasant roundness. Average price: $36.
This was a straightforward Mule, with no lingering flavors or off tastes. It seemed to suit vodka’s mission: to disperse seamlessly into the sweet tang of the other cocktail components. Average price: $23.
Noticeable smoothness dominated the tasting notes of this top-shelf option, which had almost citrusy notes that one taster worried killed the spice of the ginger a little, but inspired another to wax poetic: “It runs down your throat like a waterfall.” Average price: $80.
For those who think organic spirits are more about marketing buzzwords than flavor, this bottle presents a strong counterargument. Multiple tasters commented on the balance and smoothness of this Moscow Mule, which had great structure and a slightly longer finish. Average price: $20.
This iridescent, skull-shaped number from Dan Aykroyd earned top marks from our panel. Aurora’s peppery notes played off the ginger beer beautifully, making it noticeably more flavorful than any other Mule. “It tastes like a ‘craft’ Moscow Mule you’d get in a fancy cocktail bar,” one panelist said. The finish was spicy and balanced. Average price: $60.