Many classic cocktails have murky histories behind them. Think about the Cosmopolitan or the Long Island Iced Tea. The origins of these drinks have long been debated, and it’s likely that we’ll never know exactly how they were created.
Nowadays, there are several different variations of the Moscow Mule, but those three ingredients are what make up the original recipe.
This cocktail tastes spicy but sweet. It’s bold and has solid acidity, but it’s also remarkably smooth. Its extreme fizziness is complimented well by its intense ginger flavor, and this cocktail goes down very easily.
The Moscow Mule is perfect for enjoying a hot summer day. It is paired beautifully with light, Asian meals like Thai noodle salad or Indian cashew butter paneer.
Where did the Moscow Mule come from?
It is generally believed that the Moscow Mule was first created in the USA during the 1940s. During this time, vodka was rarely consumed in America, largely being perceived as a Russian drink.
John G. Martin, the owner of one of the first U.S. vodka brands, Heublein & Brothers, was attempting to break this norm. However, he was having some major issues trying to convince Americans to try his alcohol.
One night at the Chatom Hotel in New York City, Martin found himself in the company of his friend John “Jack” Morgan, owner of the Hollywood Cock’n Bull Restaurant and president of Cock’n Bull Products. At the time, Morgan was struggling to market a ginger beer that his brand had made.
Out of pure spontaneity, the two decided to mix some of the vodka and ginger beer they had. They served it with ice and a squeeze of lemon juice.
They served the first cocktail to actor Broderick Crawford, who happened to be in the building that night. A few days later, the drink was given the name of “the Moscow Mule.”
The “Moscow” element of the name comes from vodka’s Russian birthplace, and the “Mule” part of the name comes from the ginger beer, which gives the cocktail a kick. Little did these three men know that they had just invented a classic drink that would be enjoyed for decades.
A spike in popularity
Martin and Morgan quickly realized that they had just created something special. They decided to work together to brand the Moscow Mule officially and market it as a new drink.
Martin had recently purchased the Smirnoff distillery, which caused him to have an excess supply of vodka. This allowed him to take on this new business venture without fear of loss.
The cocktail first began growing in popularity on the West Coast, particularly in Hollywood. Considering that all three of its creators were losing time and money with their previous business pursuits, this invention proved to be a huge success.
From this point on, vodka started to become accepted as a drink in the United States. Today, it is one of the most popular spirits in the country.
The Moscow Mule’s different claims to fame
Though this account of Martin, Morgan, and Price is usually accepted as the origin story of the Moscow Mule, there is some controversy about how the inspiration behind the drink came to be.
Martin and Morgan have stated that they created the drink. But that might actually not be the case. According to Wes Price, a bartender of Morgan’s, he was also there that night and contributed to the drink’s creation.
Apparently, that night, Martin and Morgan were chatting with Price, who was trying to get rid of extra product that he had in his basement. He had a surplus of deadstock, namely Smirnoff Vodka and ginger beer. As a result, he suggested mixing these two drinks.
There’s actually another version of this story too. Instead of Price, this version involves Rudolph Kunett, president of Pierre Smirnoff, Heublein’s vodka division. According to this account, the three were enjoying a casual night of drinking when they randomly decided to pour up their vodka with ginger beer.
It is unknown who was actually present the night that this drink was created. However, it is certain that Martin and Morgan were the catalysts behind its explosion onto the scene.
Sophie’s story of the Moscow Mule
There is still yet another account of the creation of the Moscow Mule that exists. This one is the most notable variation of the account, as it contains immense detail. It also claims that the Moscow Mule was created in Los Angeles and not New York City.
Sophie Berezinski was a Russian immigrant who had just arrived in the United States. Along with her on her journey, she brought 2,000 copper mugs. Her father, an owner of a copper factory in Russia, called the Moscow Copper Co., was hoping that Sophie could sell them for him in America.
Sophie actually designed these copper mugs back in Russia. Her father’s company ran the presses that stamped them out. But when she got to the United States, she found it difficult to move them, and she had no space to store them. Eventually, Sophie’s husband Max became fed up with the mugs cluttering the house. He told Sophie to either find a buyer for the mugs, or he was going to throw them out.
According to the Moscow Copper Co., Sophie was desperately trying to find a buyer for her mugs, going bar to bar in Hollywood, when she found herself in the Chatham Hotel one night. There, she ran into Martin and Morgan. She ended up joining their conversation and spending hours crafting a drink that could fit the copper mug.
In order to sell these men her mugs, she had to offer an additional incentive. The result was the Moscow Mule. This drink was designed to fit the cold properties of the copper mug.
There is also an alternative account to Sophie’s story, alleging that Morgan’s girlfriend, Osalene Schmitt, was actually the one who supplied Morgan with the copper mugs used for his cocktail. It is believed that Schmitt inherited a business that made copper goods.
Why do Moscow Mules come in a copper mug?
So we know how the copper mug came to be. But why is it such a huge part of the Moscow Mule tradition?
Well, for one, using specific vessels for cocktails is not out of the ordinary. Just look at Mezcal, which is traditionally served in a copita, or a wide, bowl-like structure. The vessel for your cocktail should heighten the flavors, aromas, and presentation of your drink.
That’s exactly what the copper mug does for the Moscow Mule. The drink’s sweet, punchy taste and smell are enhanced in this cup. The mug also does a great job at keeping the drink cold, which is essential for this cocktail.
The copper mug also gives it a distinct appearance. You can spot this mug from a mile away and know instantly that there is a Moscow Mule being served in it.
Additionally, the copper mug played a huge role in the Moscow Mule’s popularity as an American drink. After it was created, Martin took two Polaroid pictures of the bartender holding the drink in a copper mug. He left one for display in the bar and kept the other.
After the drink was invented, Martin would go around bar-crawling, showing bartenders his new cocktail, as well as the copper mugs it was served in. He would also take pictures of bartenders holding a bottle of Smirnoff in one hand and a copper Moscow Mule mug in the other hand.
The modern Moscow Mule and where to find it
This cocktail has been enjoyed for decades and only continues to grow in prominence. In fact, it was even featured on the fourth episode of Hulu’s original show, The Great. The episode was titled “Moscow Mule.” In the episode, the audience is told that the cocktail was invented by Catherine the Great’s lover, Leo, during the 1700s—but that’s just a fun piece of storytelling, not the cocktail’s true history. Despite its name, this drink has American roots. Contrary to popular belief, it actually does not come from Russia.
Once just a trendy drink in Hollywood, the Moscow Mule is now a common cocktail served in bars and restaurants all over the country. Next time you see this drink on the cocktail menu, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into!
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