The Moscow Mule

The story of the Moscow Mule is a lesson in how the right cocktail can help you overcome significant challenges.

The Moscow Mule originated in the US in the early 1940s. There were two central people involved, John G. Martin, president of G.F. Heublein Brothers Inc. (an alcohol distribution company) and John A. Morgan, known as Jack, president of Cock’ n’ Bull Products and owner of the Hollywood Cock’ n’ Bull Bar. 

The beginnings of the Moscow Mule came out of a bunch of problems that were in need of creative solutions. Martin was facing the challenge of Smirnoff Vodka, one of his brands, not selling well. People liked Whiskey, Gin, beer, and wine, but vodka just wasn’t very popular in America back then. Jack Morgan’s problem was that he produced ginger beer and had too much on hand, with little ability to sell it.

Now, this is where the story gets a little less clear. The cocktail was either born in New York or Los Angeles. According to the New York account, the birthplace of “Little Moscow” was in New York’s Chatham Hotel. It was here that a basement full of Cock’ n’ Bull Ginger beer had been delivered and was sitting in the basement stockroom when John “Jack” Morgan met with John Martin. They put the pieces together and boom, a cocktail was born.

The Los Angeles version is similar but credited as having happened at the Hollywood Bar, the Cock’ n’ Bull. The story sees Martin wandering around Hollywood, trying desperately to sell the Vodka brand he had recently purchased. He entered the Cock ‘n’ Bull and talked to the owner Jack Morgan who faced a similar problem of not being able to sell his ginger beer. Together they worked out a solution that benefitted them all and boom, a cocktail was born. No matter which version you choose to believe, this next part is true.

Now with a tasty and refreshing drink to help move their products, all that was left was getting the word out. Marketing can be easy, but you’ve gotta have a hook. Enter the last desperate business person with a problem to solve in our story. Sophie Berezinski. 

Sophie’s father owned and operated a copper machining plant in Russia known as the Moscow Copper Company and had designed, created, and stamped more than 2,000 mugs made of solid copper. The problem was that they couldn’t seem to sell them in the depressed post war Russian economy. The family decided that she would take the mugs with her on her journey to America, the idea being that having something to barter or sell would help her establish her new life in the U.S.

It seems that she was also struck by the hand of fate as she was trying to unload the mugs at bars along the Sunset strip. She happened upon an English style bar called the Cock’ n’ Bull. Inside she met with a group of men that happened to be looking for some way to dress up their newly created cocktail, and a match made in marketing heaven was born.

With all the ingredients in place, John G. Martin created a buzz for the cocktail and his vodka by going bar to bar and taking Polaroid photos of the bartenders with a bottle of Smirnoff in one hand and the copper Moscow Mule mug in the other. The bartender got a copy for their troubles, and Martin took a second shot to show the next spot what the competition’s hot seller was. Martin was pretty good at that marketing stuff. The drink took off.

Here’s a fun fact that shows just how brilliant Martin’s marketing scheme was. This was not a time when just anyone could take a selfie. Having a photo taken was something only the wealthy elite could afford so the offer to have Martin take one with the newly invented Polaroid was pretty damn cool.

The Moscow Mule became so popular that it inspired an entire family of cocktails, each using different liquors and each with a different name:

Bourbon – a Kentucky mule or Horsefeather.

Gin – Gin-gin mule, London mule, or Foghorn.

Tequila – a Mexican mule.

Use White or Spiced rum – Jamaican mule.

Dark Rum – an Aussie mule or a Dark and Stormy.

Adding raspberry liqueur like Chambord turns a Moscow mule into a Floradora.

The copper mug remains iconic as the vessel for a Moscow mule, however solid copper mugs are rarely used because they are actually against the law! The U.S. FDA’s Food Code specifically prohibits copper from “coming into direct contact with foods that have a pH below 6.” Since all of the ingredients in Moscow Mules are acidic, the resulting beverage has a pH well below that limit. The reason for the law is that copper can start dissolving when exposed to acidic solutions and is considered toxic even at medium concentrations. So when your bartender slides over a “copper mug”, just know it’s more than likely stainless steel with copper colored plating. Sorry to ruin the illusion, but let’s move on to the important part, the drink.

Making a Moscow Mule at home is easy. 

Add the following ingredients into your vessel of choice:

2 ounces vodka (Smirnoff if you want to follow and respect the original recipe)

3 ounces ginger beer (The Spicier, the better, We like Q mixers or Fevertree

Squeeze in half a lime and garnish with a lime wheel. And there you have it, the Moscow Mule. For a tasty mocktail, mix ginger beer, lime juice, and add a little cranberry juice for balance.