One of my favorite cocktail ingredients is ginger beer. Though Zingiber officinale, ginger, has been consumed for millennia, the spicy brew dates to 1700s England, when the root was fermented to make a mildly alcoholic drink. Ginger ale, made from extract, came later. Most beers are nonalcoholic now, but they're zippier than ale; they can make the drink. Take the Moscow Mule. According to Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails (Quarry Books, 2009), this 1940s concoction was devised by Smirnoff owner John Martin and his pal Jack Morgan of L.A.'s Cock and Bull Tavern, who had branded a ginger beer. Morgan had a girlfriend who owned a copper products company. The ginger beer gave the vodka charisma; the drink in its signature copper mug was a hit. The Moscow Mule is one of a family of drinks called "bucks": ginger beer plus a spirit and citrus. Today's bucks live up to their name, as many include a capsicum kick. Since ginger loses its heat when juiced, most bottled beers are fortified with chiles or peppercorns. Juicy Ginger People, earthy Fentiman's, bright Maine Root, potent Fever Tree, sweet Reed's—there are many to choose from. But the best is one I make from scratch using soda water and a syrup infused with ginger and black pepper. It perks me right up.