Shift Drink Saturday: Moscow Mule

Shift Drink Saturday: Moscow Mule

June 20, 2020

Moscow Mule

If you've ever played the game Telephone then you've learned that the spoken word can easily modify between orators. The history of the Moscow Mule is no exception. This wonderful cocktail that consists of Vodka, ginger beer, lime juice and is incredibly refreshing, as well as all the different stories that you will hear of its creation. The following tales will recount the spoken history that I am familiar with (and the many bartenders that told me) and the written history. Comment down below on what story you like more!

~Spoken Word~

In the mid 20th century, Vodka was trying to break into the American market. The owners of Smirnoff were spearheading this attempt with the creation of a new cocktail called the Moscow Mule. After many attempts to get the cocktail on menus in bars around the country and failing they decided to target more prestigious locations. Enter the Waldorf Hotel, a historic art-deco landmark with many influential people dining and drinking there day and night.

The owners of Smirnoff convinced the bartenders to add it to their cocktail menu and were sure that this would be the cocktail program to light the spark that will ignite the flame so to speak. After several nights on the cocktail menu there was still little interest even though it had a cool shiny mug. Desperate to get attention to the cocktail, the owners of Smirnoff sat at the furthest table from the bar and ordered a round of Moscow Mules. They instructed the cocktail server to bring their drinks on a tray raised high over her head and slowly walk around the packed room. Well sure enough this worked. The law of premium branding, everyone looked up in curiosity to see what those shiny mugs were all about and then the orders started to roll in. The rest is history as they say.

The name Moscow Mule may also refer to the characteristic of a mule in storytelling. Mules are used to smuggle something, think of a mule as a Trojan horse. Russia Was trying to sell Americans Vodka, disguise Vodka in a shiny beautiful drinking vessel that tastes wonderful and the famed drink of Moscow is now being consumed mightily throughout America for generations. As Agamemnon invaded Troy with a horse made of wood, Smirnoff invaded America with a shiny mug made of copper.

~Written Word~

The following is an excerpt from "Jones' Complete Bar Guide" by Stan Jones.

Southern California, Vodka is in vogue in the 1940's here and Jack Morgan's restaurant Cock 'N Bull is about to unveil to the world the Moscow Mule. Jack spent a lot of time in England before opening his restaurant and fell in love with ginger beer while overseas. He thought that the Americans would take to the beverage as much as he did so he produced his own brand of ginger beer. Well he was wrong at first as the Americans did not take to the product as he so did across the pond. At the same time he had a girl friend  who inherited a business which made copper things and she couldn't sell them either. The owner of Smirnoff at the time was John Martin and was trying desperately to get Vodka selling across  the country. The three struggling entrepreneurs put their heads and assets together and came up with the Moscow Mule, so named probably because it was a "Russian" drink with a kick. Putting Smirnoff vodka and ginger beer in a copper mug was one thing, getting people, even bartenders, to try it was another. John Martin was helped in this matter by another newcomer to the scene, Polaroid, who had just come out with a camera that took a picture and produced a print in a minute. Martin would walk into a bar and tell the bartender he would take his picture if he would try a Moscow Mule and the bartender, just as interested in getting his picture taken as in the drink, agreed. Of course, Martin made sure that he took the picture while the bartender was tasting the new drink and snap, snap! One picture for the bartender and one for Mr. Martin to carry to the next bar to show that everyone was switching to Smirnoff vodka and the Moscow Mule! And soon, everyone was!

Both of these stories are fun and also share 2 lessons of advertising and marketing at its best. Just as time moves along, the recipe for this drink has taken many shapes. The recipe at the end of this post is my favorite way to enjoy one which I hope you enjoy. As for the copper mug, time also takes its toll. Copper is not a food safe substance and now must be lined with stainless steel therefore rendering the added flavor that the copper gives is now just a placebo. Drinking Vessels makes and sells some amazing glassware that can still show off this cocktails true potential beauty.

The Recipe

In a glass, lightly muddle a slice of ginger about the size of your pinky. Add ice, pour 1.5 ounces of Vodka, fill rest of glass with ginger beer. Squeeze a wedge of lime and drop into the glass. Add a dash of Angostura Bitters on top and enjoy! Pair this with almost any meal because it is light, refreshing and ginger can act as a palate cleanser.


Sammy G


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