Behind the Drink: The Moscow Mule

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In 1947, Edwin H. Land invented the Polaroid Land Camera, and instant photography was born.

John G. Martin, an executive at the Heublein drinks company, availed himself of one of Land’s handy-dandy devices, and soon he was bar-crawling, taking pictures of bartenders holding a bottle of the firm’s newly acquired Smirnoff Vodka in one hand and a copper Moscow Mule mug in the other.

The bartender got a copy for his troubles, and Martin took a second shot to show the next joint what the competition was selling. Martin was a true marketing genius.

The Moscow Mule had been invented circa 1941, and although Martin often said that he and Jack Morgan, owner of the Los Angeles British pub Cock ‘n’ Bull, created the drink, such might not actually be the case. According to a 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal penned by the reliable Eric Felton, the Cock ‘n’ Bull’s head bartender Wes Price also laid claim to the recipe. And I’m inclined to believe a bartender over a marketer…

What we do know for certain is that Martin had bought the rights to Smirnoff for Heublein in the late 1930s, but he was having a hard time convincing Americans to drink the stuff. Vodka wasn’t very popular in the States back then. And it’s well-known that Morgan had ordered far too much ginger beer for his bar and was also having trouble getting rid of it.

Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh, in his book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, adds another relevant fact to the story: Morgan apparently had a girlfriend who owned a company that made copper products, so the copper Moscow Mule mugs were relatively easy to come by for him.

Though the Moscow Mule might not be a cocktailian masterpiece, it can be (provided you use a good, spicy ginger beer) a refreshing quaff, indeed. And according to Price, it entered the world in a very honest way:  “I just wanted to clean out the basement,” he said.

Moscow Mule

Contributed by Gary Regan

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 oz Vodka
  • 3 to 4 oz Ginger beer
  • 2 Lime wedges

Glass: Moscow Mule mug or highball

PREPARATION:
Add the vodka and ginger beer to a copper Moscow Mule mug or highball glass filled with ice and stir briefly. Squeeze the lime wedges into the drink before adding them to the glass. Stir briefly.

Gary Regan is the author of numerous books about spirits and cocktails, including The Joy of Mixologyand The Bartender’s Gin Compendium. He is also co-host of ArdentSpirits.com and Liquor.com advisor.

Recipes: Moscow Mule
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Discussion (2)

  • Karen_Reilter posted 3 years ago

    The moscow mule is one of my favorite drinks. I found this article very interesting, it's always good to know a bit of history about the things you love. Check out this great tutorial on mixing your own moscow mule, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zM4uTrwUuc

  • Martin Duffy posted 6 years ago

    Hi Gary

    Interesting to note, that before the arrival of the Moscow Mule cocktail, John Martin's only success in selling his Smirnoff vodka to a whisky/gin loving American populace was when it was accidently being sold a White Whisky in the southeast of the U.S. Cheers, Marty


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