Warm up to The Kentucky Mule | McCormick Flavor Solutions
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Warm up to The Kentucky Mule

Postcards from the Bench

Warm up to The Kentucky Mule


With winter here, it’s the perfect time to think about the cocktails (and mocktails) that warm our bellies and challenge our taste buds. As a Principal Scientist, my job is to work with our chefs and mixologists to create the “gold standard” for any beverage.

When I’m making myself a cocktail in the frigid temperatures of winter, I almost always reach for the bourbon. I love the sensation a strong cocktail gives you as it travels down your throat, that alcohol burn that cuts through the cold. The wood notes that bourbon gains during the barrel aging process almost make it feel like there’s a warm fireplace smoldering inside of you. That warming quality is why I’m quite infatuated with the Kentucky Mule, which pairs bourbon with fiery ginger and a bright, acidic splash of fresh lime. A traditional Kentucky Mule is quite easy to make: pour a jigger of bourbon and a bit of lime into a copper mug full of crushed ice, then fill to the top with ginger beer.

I love the base flavors of ginger beer so I have created my own version by using ginger liquor and crystalized ginger. I’ll mix eight ounces of crystallized ginger with 1.75 liters of vodka in a large glass jar and let it sit for about a month or so, giving it a good shake every now and again. It ends up very strong and spicy, with a light sweetness that tempers the burn. I’ll shake that up with bourbon and lime and pour over a short glass of ice. It’s strong, but it’s a sipping cocktail. If you’re looking for a more classic version, you can top it off with soda water, which will give you the fizz without the cloying sweetness.

Another thing that adds dimension is elderflower liqueur, like St. Germain™. It’s an odd thing to describe, but a bit of that gives the cocktail a sort of “slippery” note that changes the feel without sacrificing the warmth. Elderflower is floral but also has a nice sulfur note—not the obnoxious type, but the musky one you’d associate with fruit still on the vine, like dark red wine grapes. It’s actually nicknamed “Bartender’s Ketchup,” because there’s an almost undefinable quality about it that brings any cocktail together.

It should come as no surprise that elderflower liqueur also makes the Kentucky Mule sing, even though it’s not a traditional component, nor an obvious addition. There’s a layered experience when sipping this cocktail: first, you taste the strong woody notes of the bourbon, whose heat segues into the pungent ginger. You have two intense, contrasting heats, so the St. Germain smooths that out in a way that allows you to appreciate the complexity of both components, and then there’s the jolt of lime that brightens it all up. It’s a brilliant balance.

There's a layered experience when sipping this cocktail.

If I have a customer looking to add the essence of a Kentucky Mule to their line-up, I’ll start by bouncing all those ideas to our culinary mixologists, and we’ll experiment until we’ve created a cocktail that’s achieved that “gold standard” level of perfection. From there I work with our analytical scientists to replicate it at the bench, then flavorists will craft the profile, which can then be turned into a ready-to-drink product: a packaged solution for the consumer that meets our customers’ manufacturing requirements.

It works because we take a unique, 'food first' approach. Because we start with a real beverage we're able to develop a true, layered cocktail profile into a single flavor solution to the customer. For more information on how we can work together and develop your cocktail innovation, contact your McCormick Account Manager or contact us here today.