The Moscow Mule is having a moment.
First invented in 1941 in New York City’s Chatham Hotel and popularized in Los Angeles, the classic Moscow Mule is vodka, ginger beer and lime, garnished with a sprig of mint and served in a frosty copper mug. Within the past year or so, Moscow Mule variations have been popping up on menus all over Western New York, riding recent popularity of classic cocktails in upscale and down-home bars, alike.
The Elmwood-based Savoy’s fall menu features a “Ghost Mule” version, made with pumpkin liqueur and Jim Beam white whiskey that infuses the typically summer sipper with fall flavor.
Savoy is a small, dimly lit bar that’s barely an alley wide, although it packs the place for live music and deejay sets several late nights a week. The décor is French café chic with leather bench seats and petite tables along the wall opposite the bar and there’s a gorgeously garish bathroom that would make Lady Gaga’s outfits look understated. Don’t miss it.
Stools along the bar let patrons cozy up close to bartenders who sent out both craft cocktails and well drinks, as well as something called a “brain shot” that looked like curdled Irish cream, vodka and grenadine.
Not many bars can juggle the shot-and-a-beer vibe alongside a menu that lists the type of glassware beneath its drink descriptions, but Savoy manages to pull it off, catering to a crowd that was as diverse as their orders. While many customers called up tall gin and tonics, vodka-cranberries and bottled beer the likes of which can be had anywhere along Allen Street, the seasonal menu had a selection of standard cocktail offshoots, most with Savoy’s own twist. The Ghost Mule was the best of that bunch.
The Moscow Mule’s most distinctive attribute is that copper mug. Some say it keeps the drink extra cold, since the metal becomes icy almost immediately; others swear the copper enhances the ginger flavor. Science minds have pontificated that the vodka oxidizes the copper slightly, brightens the citrus and increases the bubbles in the ginger beer, for maximum nose-tickling.
Savoy’s version did taste faintly of pennies, with a hint of ginger from Johnnie Ryan ginger beer, as well as that characteristic lime bite. The pumpkin liqueur was subtler than I feared, lending just a hint of allspice and cinnamon, not the Starbucks syrup I half expected.
Most of all, the adjective best used to describe Savoy’s Ghost Mule is “subtle.” It didn’t have the sinus-clearing ginger I’ve enjoyed in other versions, but the whiskey lent a woodsy undertone the vodka version would have lacked.
Had I not known there was pumpkin in it, I never would have been able to pinpoint the flavor, but it was a nice autumnal touch. I recommend muddling that mint in just a little; it adds a fresh, just-brushed zing that keeps the whole thing from tipping toward too sweet.
I’d gnaw a ginger root if my sinuses would stand it, so Savoy’s version was a bit too ginger-light for me. Fortunately, there are as many takes on the Mule as there are creative bartenders in this city, and that’s a lot. Savoy’s is a fine introduction to how the Mule’s taste can change with a twist, but it’s not a master’s course by any means.
Give the Ghost Mule a try if you’re looking for a fresh autumnal take on a summer standard.
Cocktails $9; Savoy; 149 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo; 768-3100; www.savoy-buffalo.com.
Lizz Schumer is a Buffalo writer and editor who covers cocktails, food and whimsy for a variety of publications. She is the author of "Buffalo Steel" and can be found @eschumer, lizzschumer.com or www.facebook.com/authorlizzschumer.