Food & Culture
This Belltown Bar Makes the Perfectly Spicy Moscow Mule
Cursed Oak heats up a classic refresher.
By AJ Rathbun May 16, 2017
The Cocktail: Chile Dreams
The Bar: Cursed Oak
The Bartender: Mike Carroll
DRINK HISTORY As with many drinks, cocktail historians don’t always agree on the origin of the Moscow mule—made with vodka, ginger beer and lime juice—which first made an appearance in the 1940s. Some think Jack Morgan, the late owner of the now-defunct Los Angeles bar Cock’n Bull and its eponymous ginger beer, concocted it with Rudolph Kunett, president of Smirnoff vodka, and spirits distributor John G. Martin. Other stories credit the late Cock’n Bull bartender Wes Price as the inventor.
As with many classic tipples, the mule’s popularity waned, but has bounced back big in our present cocktail revolution. While Mike Carroll (formerly of The Whiskey Bar) was developing the drink menu for his bar, Cursed Oak in the old Coterie Room (Belltown, 2137 Second Ave.; 206.485.7385; cursedoakbar.com), he knew he wanted a balance of complicated drinks and easily relatable ones. An approachable mule variation was a flawless fit, especially once he tasted St. George Distillery’s green chile vodka, made at a craft distillery in Alameda, California. It includes serrano, habañero, red and yellow sweet bell peppers, jalapeños, lime and cilantro. It’s a stunner, bringing heat with a fresh garden salsa flavor. Carroll complements it with the traditional fervor and zing of ginger beer and fresh ginger, along with the tang of lime. His concoction is a hit with Cursed Oak’s Belltown crowd of after-work sippers, who belly up to the astonishing dark red bar made from a mammoth block of stained cement, which harmonizes marvelously with the rest of the restaurant’s dark wood motifs.
THE TWIST Carroll expected the ingredients to quickly jell, but the drink remained a smidge off until he added the final ingredient: Bitter Truth celery bitters. With a strong vegetal celery taste the bitters provide a flavorsome final touch, underlined by the citrus and ginger, transforming the drink into an effervescent delight with enough character for year-round sipping—though I think it’s ideal for springtime. This mule’s spice also stands strong with chef Simon Pantet’s (the former Top Chef contestant worked at Tavolàta and Single Shot) menu of creative “Rations”—think bourbon steak with a foie gras sauce and oyster mushrooms.
The copper mug is the time-honored vessel for a Moscow mule and should be the receptacle of choice—both for history’s sake and because the copper makes the experience extra cool.
1½ ounces St. George green chile vodka
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ½-inch-by-2-inch pieces fresh ginger
2 dashes Bitter Truth celery bitters
4 ounces Bundaberg ginger beer
1 New Mexican green chile
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add the vodka, lime juice, ginger and bitters. Shake well.
Fill your copper mug with crushed ice. Strain the mix into it. Top with the ginger beer. Stir briefly. Garnish with that green chile.