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.
Black-currant-flavored crème de cassis adds fruity dimension and a lovely pink hue to this tequila-based drink. Combine 1½ oz. tequila such as Patrón Reposado with ½ oz. crème de cassis and ½ oz. lime juice in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Top with 3 oz. ginger beer. Squeeze a lime wedge over top; drop into glass.
At New York City's Pegu Club, Audrey Saunders serves her signature gin and mint riff on the Moscow Mule. To make it, muddle 10 mint leaves, 1 oz. simple syrup, and ¾ oz. lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add 1½ oz. gin and fill with ice. Shake and strain into an ice-filled cocktail glass; top with 2 oz. ginger beer and garnish with a mint sprig.
Erick Castro of San Diego's Polite Provisions gave us the recipe for this fruity refresher. Muddle 1 chopped strawberry, ¾ oz. lemon juice, and ½ oz. simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add 2 oz. Wild Turkey bourbon, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and ice. Shake and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with 2 oz. ginger beer; garnish with a strawberry slice.
By trademark, this Bermudian drink requires Gosling's Black Seal Rum. Similar drinks with names like dark 'n foggy or light 'n stormy use other rums. To make the original, pour 4 oz. ginger beer into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with 1½ oz. Gosling's Black Seal Rum. Squeeze a lime wedge over top; drop into glass.
The wide spiral peel of a whole lemon adds dramatic appeal and tangy balance to this cognac-based drink. Drop the peel into a highball glass; fill glass with crushed ice. Stir in 6 oz. ginger beer and 2 oz. cognac. Top with 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.
To make a homemade ginger beer, mix soda water in a ratio of 3:1 with this spicy syrup. To prepare it, peel and thinly slice a 6" piece of ginger; transfer to a 2-qt. saucepan. Add 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, and 1½ tsp. whole black peppercorns; boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until sugar is dissolved. Chill overnight, then strain into an 8-oz. glass jar. Makes about 1 cup of syrup.