Also known as the Motor City Mule. Vernors is the key...
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I love the Moscow Mule – to me it’s the perfect cocktail – simple, sweet and tart, bubbly and cold with endless possibilities and variations. There are hundreds of recipes out there, such as the Holiday Mule, and I have literally made dozens of variations of my own riffing off the 3 basic ingredients of vodka, lime and ginger beer. I’ve made it with lemon, flavored vodkas, added juices and liqueurs, lemon instead of lime, ginger ales and various fancy ginger beers….. but I’m from the Detroit area, and we have a very unique and special ginger soda called Vernors which is the basis for this recipe.
You can’t really get Vernors outside of the Detroit area and Michigan, although Wikipedia claims that it is now available in 33 states. I’ve only ever seen it in Michigan and parts of Ohio. It’s been around since 1866 and although some claim that the flavor has changed over the years, it tastes pretty much the same as I remember it, although maybe a little weaker and sweeter. It has a secret recipe (naturally) with a distinct spicy-sweet flavor that is likely due to a high ginger content and oak barrel aging. In any case, it’s awesome, and you can’t really make this recipe without it. I usually have a stash on hand from my many trips back to Michigan, so you can ask me for some if you really want to try this.
I initially stumbled upon this idea by pure chance when I had some cucumber vodka and I was trying to figure out what kinds of flavors would pair nicely with it in a custom Moscow Mule and I just randomly opened a can of Vernors rather than my usual Reed’s ginger beer. It was amazing! I’ve also tried it with lemon instead of lime, which was good, and even just plain vodka, and they were all good. However, I felt as though something was missing. Lately I have been experimenting with various tiki oriented drinks, and I thought that the strong ginger spiciness would go well with Velvet Falernum, which is a spicy liqueur used in some tropical themed drinks. It has a ginger, allspice and clove flavor which made perfect sense and it was in fact the perfect complement to my beloved Vernors! I tried my recipe using lemon and plain vodka as well, but cucumber vodka and lime seem to be essential to making this work. So what’s Zug Island? This is Zug Island:
Since I was making a Detroit-themed island drink, I immediately thought of the most Detroit-themed island I knew. Zug Island is a serious industrial wasteland man-made island just south of Detroit. You can’t even legally go onto the island, although I have done so in the trespassing days of my youth. It’s the home to steel mills and tar factories and just pure pollution. Also some falcons, apparently. Anyway, don’t let my dose of reality ruin your drink. It’s actually really tasty!
2 oz. cucumber infused vodka
½ oz. Velvet Falernum
½ oz. fresh squeezed lime
4 oz. Vernors ginger soda (NO substitutions)
Mix together in an oil can (or glass) and fill to top with crushed ice. Garnish with half lime husk floating like an island.