Cocktail of the Month: The Moscow Mule
If you walk into most liquor stores, you’ll notice quite a large space devoted to its vodka selection. Many watering holes will have a rainbow of vodkas on display behind the bar. Vodka is one of the most well-liked spirits in the United States, especially among younger drinkers. Given the tremendous popularity of vodka today, it’s hard to believe that up until the 1950s, gin and whiskey were the preferred liquors of choice.
One of the principle cocktails that propelled vodka into the limelight was the Moscow Mule, a mixture of vodka, ginger beer and lime. This classic tipple was born out of mutual convenience between two men, John Martin and Jack Morgan, in the 1940s. Martin was trying to introduce his new product, Smirnoff vodka, in the United States. At the time Americans were accustomed to spirits with a more pronounced flavor, making it extremely difficult for Martin to sell his vodka. It is rumored that he had problems giving it away.
One day Martin was having lunch at the Cock & Bull restaurant in Los Angeles. He started a conversation with the owner Jack Morgan, who at the time was trying to sell his Cock & Bull brand of ginger beer, a product he produced on the side. They decided to mix the two products together, and after a bit of experimentation the Moscow mule was born. Morgan had a friend who had inherited a copper factory and she was trying to unload a huge batch of copper mugs. The two men decided to promote their new concoction by serving it in copper mugs with an image of a kicking mule embossed on it. The cocktail was said to have the kick of a mule.
The Moscow mule became the house special at the Cock and Bull on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Martin set off to market his new drink to bars across the company. He had a clever scheme, which involved taking Polaroid photos of bartenders holding the distinctive copper mug along with a bottle of Smirnoff. He would leave one copy of the photo at the bar and take another photo to competing bars to show them that their competitors were selling Moscow mules.
Between 1947 and 1950 Smirnoff case columns more than tripled, and nearly doubled again in 1951, according to CocktailAtlas.com, The Moscow mule kicked off a long period of success for Smirnoff. According to Phil Greene, founding member of the Museum of the American Cocktail, as the brand increased in popularity, Smirnoff ran many ad campaigns featuring the Moscow Mule with celebrities such as Woody Allen. The ad campaign touted that Smirnoff vodka will “leave you breathless,” a possible reference to the idea that vodka is undetectable on your breath.
The popularity of the Moscow mule encouraged Smirnoff to promote a variety of cocktails, all of which highlighted the mixability of Smirnoff with other ingredients. As time wore on, vodka became the favored spirit of many leading up to a Renaissance of new cocktails, such as the cosmopolitan, sex on the beach and whole host of drinks served in martini glasses, such as the appletini, flirtini and French martini.
Today, the Moscow mule is a cocktail that stands the test of time, even though its birthplace, the Cock and Bull has closed it doors. The original Copper Mugs are now collector’s items.
It’s a fairly simple cocktail to mix with only three ingredients. Finding the ginger beer can be a bit challenging, but most large supermarkets and better liquor stores will have it on hand. One of the most popular brands is produced by the Black Seal rum company to promote their dark and stormy cocktail. Personally, I prefer Goya ginger beer, which is a spicier than other brands.
THE MOSCOW MULE:
2 ounces vodka
3 ounces ginger beer
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
Build in mug, fill with ice, garnish with lime wedge.
Recipe courtesy of the Museum of the American Cocktail.