An unconventional take on the Moscow Mule, this savory-sweet, vodka-based cocktail gets a kick from toasted coriander, cumin, cardamom, and saffron as well as loads of fresh ginger.
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When Sarah was considering her flavoring plans for blood orange sodas a few weeks ago, her sentiments matched my own. "I pretty much want every drink ever to have ginger in it." I couldn't have agreed more. Which is why I immediately ordered a Mumbai Mule when my friend Vanessa (who makes these fabulous recipe and ingredient boxes) took me to ABV for the first time. I had a dance rehearsal to attend afterward, but we sat at the bar and ordered a couple of drinks and some snacks. It quickly became my new favorite.
ABV has a minimalistic aesthetic that I adore. They offer no plastic straws with your drink, nor utensils of any kind with your food. Vittles include halved and grilled little gems topped with green goddess dressing, salumi plates, tiny fish and chips, and the ABV – a box of vegetables, a.k.a. pickles! You don't need a dictionary to read their menu, which is cleverly organized by type of spirit, yet each drink is inventive, well-balanced, and very quaffable. The vibe is relaxed and the bartenders friendly – no easy feat in the hipster-infested Mission.
Vanessa always orders the same two drinks, and I followed suit. We each started with a Tarragon Collins, tall glasses of gin shaken with bright green simple syrup and lemon. The bartender divulged the secret of the green drink, which happened to be my very same secret for obtaining green ice cream: the chilled syrup was blended with loads of fresh tarragon, then strained, maintaining its fresh flavor and vibrant hue.
We finished our first round and, sensing that it was safe to have another, I followed Vanessa's lead and ordered a Mumbai Mule, a cloudy golden drink garnished simply with a spring of mint. The first sip was eye opening: intensely spicy, almost savory, with just a hint of sweetness and citrus. It was a far cry from the usual mule, syrupy sweet gingerale topped with cheap vodka. It was what I want every mule – every cocktail, really – to taste like.
Somehow I ended up at dance practice, giggling and reeking of gin. Somehow my dance buddies found this not repulsive but appealing, and we all ended up back at ABV afterwards, where I tried two equally tasty drinks, one full of smoke and bourbon, the other an herbaceous brandy and honey concoction. I was hooked. (And subsequently, hungover.)
But it was the mule I couldn't get out of my mind. I tried in vain to recreate it at home, using the same technique as the Collins and pureeing and straining fresh ginger with simple syrup to preserve its bright, floral flavor. I wasn't sure where the spiciness was coming from, but I tried adding cardamom, turmeric, and honey. Tasty, but not quite it.
Then when Jay surprised me with V-day resos at our favorite Indian restaurant in the Lower Haight, we decided to swing by ABV for pre-dinner cocktails. The place was bustling but we managed to score two seats at the bar where we shared a mule and a collins (I've since instituted a two-drink limit). I casually grilled the bartender, who said that the vodka was infused with coriander, cumin, and lots of saffron. "No cardamom?" I asked. "No cardamom." I learned that while most mules get lime, they use lemon in theirs as it pairs better with the other flavors.
Rather than risk botching large quantities of vodka with faulty infusions, I toasted the spices and added them to the syrup, and I did add a bit of cardamom, which gave the drink a touch more depth, I thought.
Thus I present to you my version of ABV's mumbai mule. The saffron and fresh ginger give the drink a pretty golden hue, and the coriander, cumin and cardamom all blend into a subtle background spice. Use a decent vodka here; I like Hangar 1. I think our bartender summed it up best. "It smells like you're about to take a bite of Indian food," she said, "but then it tastes like a rad cocktail."
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Inspired by ABV
For the spiced ginger syrup:
(Makes 1 cup, enough for 8 drinks)
2 teaspoons coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
seeds from 5 green cardamom pods
a big pinch of saffron threads (about 1/16 teaspoon)
3/4 cup organic blonde cane sugar
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup chopped fresh ginger root (2.25 ounces / 65 grams)
2 ounces (1/4 cup) vodka (I used Hangar 1)
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) spiced ginger syrup (above)
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) strained fresh lemon juice
Make the spiced ginger syrup:
In a small, heavy skillet, combine the coriander, cumin, and cardamom seeds and saffron. Heat over a medium flame, shuffling the pan frequently, to toast the spices until they are fragrant and start to pop, 30 seconds once the pan is hot.
Meanwhile, stir together the sugar with the boiling water until dissolved (or mostly dissolved). Add the syrup, toasted spices, and ginger to a blender and blend until fairly smooth. Strain the syrup through a very fine mesh strainer, pressing on the solids to extract the good stuff. Use immediately or (preferably) chill the syrup until cold, at least 1 hour and up to several days.
Make the mules: