Last year, my friends and I decided to shift our annual beach week from Myrtle Beach in South Carolina to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Our 2018 visit to charming Dirty Myrtle included vicious sunburns, several parking ticket crises and more than enough awkward encounters with people we wished we could forget at Ye Olde Spanish Galleon.
With these happy memories fresh in our minds, we instead planned for a week of frisbee on the beach, lighthouse scouting along the coast, and the occasional Mike’s hard lemonade in the sun. One night, with creativity hindered only by our very limited supply of ingredients, a new-to-us beverage was born. Of course we weren’t actually the first to invent this drink, but we christened it the “Kitty Hawk mule” nevertheless: the cheap (but fun!) goddaughter of the classic Moscow mule.
In my opinion, the Moscow mule is one of the world’s best drinks. It’s the perfect blend of sweet, spicy and herbal. The sharpness of the ginger beer and the bite of the vodka are perfectly balanced by the coolness of the lime and ice, while the name and the traditional beaten-copper cup make it feel worldly and sophisticated. Plus, the ginger undoubtedly boosts your immune system—it’s a win-win-win.
My parents got on a strong Moscow mule kick a few years ago. We don’t own any of those copper mugs, but we do usually have a lime and a couple of bright green bottles of ginger beer rattling around in the fridge. In the summertime, we can pick fresh mint from the plants that are perpetually sprawling over the rest of the patio—somehow, there’s always enough of the right ingredients to make it work.
But the first time I tried a Moscow mule was in a friend’s dorm room at Tufts. She was throwing a Christmas party, and I spontaneously drove from Vermont to Boston to join the fun, arriving just before a storm that blanketed the city in an enchanting, festive layer of snow. We all packed inside her dorm room, roasting in holiday sweaters and talking loudly over Spotify’s “Hipster Christmas” playlist.
My friend is lovely, and so are her friends, but in a room of mostly-strangers I still felt a little out of place. Someone poured me a drink, and maybe it was more vodka than any professional bartender could be convinced to serve, and maybe we had to ration the ice so it wasn’t particularly frosty, and maybe I drank it mostly to avoid small talk. But it was still delightful. It simultaneously tasted like warm holiday spice cookies and transported me from the crowded party to the streets outside, luminous with moonlight and falling snow.
I’ve never been to Moscow, but I’m fairly sure that Italian bartenders can mix this drink just as well as their Russian counterparts, and certainly better than a college student in a Boston dorm room. While studying abroad in Rome, my new friends and I quickly found our favorite places: laidback wine bars along the cobblestones and laundry lines of Trastevere; quirky cocktail spots near the Pantheon; dive bars playing both American music and Italian soccer games. For me, our weekend nights nearly always included a Moscow mule. At only $5 a mug, it was an easy drink to order a round of, and it’s important to note that one of our friends has the last name of Mulé, a pun that never went unmentioned or unappreciated.
During that semester I learned that Moscow mules don’t necessarily have to be Russian. If it’s made with gin, it’s a London mule; with rum, a Jamaican mule; with Tequila, a Mexican mule. The name changes with the ingredients, as does the flavor and the overall experience of the drink. Which takes us to 2019 Beach Week, and a new kind of mule.
Admittedly, the Kitty Hawk mule is essentially a Moscow mule, with one key difference: swapping ginger ale for the ginger beer. Using ginger ale instead of beer reduces the biting heat of the drink, creating a sweeter, simpler flavor that is incredibly easy to drink and simply delectable after a day in the sun. It’s also cheaper and far easier to make: you can get limes at the campus store and a whole two-liter bottle of ginger ale is only $0.99 with your Harris Teeter card. Pop in a handful of ice cubes, a good splash of Smirnoff or Svedka or whatever you have handy, a generous squeeze of lime, and fill it the rest of the way with generic-brand ginger ale. Nothing like it.
The Kitty Hawk mule is maybe not particularly sophisticated, or complicated, or classy. It’s cheap, and goes down easy, and my mom would say it will rot my teeth out. But it was the drink of the week, and “developing” it made me feel like a criminal mastermind. In my experience at Duke, it is rare to feel like I have done something first—or best—when everyone else is also the first and the best in a thousand different activities and endeavors. For me, the absurd rush of success that came from mixing a new(ish) drink is almost unparalleled in my academic and professional career, and as silly as it is, I have to say it felt good to make something new.
It’s still FWOC and senior year is already hurtling past me, faster every day, and I am going to be chasing that feeling. I want this giddy innovation to carry me through the next two semesters, my last chance to live any part of the Duke experience (at least for now). I want more ludicrous successes, more feeling like I’m doing it right, more blissful days away from it all, more nights with my friends laughing over ridiculous wins. I want more Kitty Hawk mules.
Gretchen Wright is a Trinity senior who recommends drinking responsibly and creatively. Her column, “cameron cravings,” runs on alternate Thursdays.
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