Maybe it’s that spicy ginger kick, but I always associate Moscow Mules with the post-holiday season. After all, you can only drink so many hot toddies and mulled ciders. Once January rolls around and you’ve had enough of those warming tipples, a Mule makes for a refreshing change. But how did this simple, yet oh so delicious, cocktail come to be? Our story starts nearly 80 years ago.
The Mule itself came about thanks to an excess of stock, stock which needed to be moved. If you’ve ever worked in the hospitality game or even in retail, you know what we’re talking about. In 1939, head of Heublein Brothers Inc., John G. Martin, had just acquired the Smirnoff distillery. By 1941, he was still sitting on a massive surplus of vodka, trying to work out the best way to get his product out to the masses.
At this point in America’s spirits history, vodka just wasn’t popular with the general public. He shared his woes with friend and owner of LA’s Cock ‘n’ Bull bar, Jack Morgan. Morgan knew all too well of Martin’s plight – he was having a devil of a time shifting his brand of ginger beer.
One fateful night in 1941, the two men were sitting around the bar with Wes Price, the head barman at the Bull, lamenting the fact they couldn’t seem to shift their wares. More than willing to help, Price whipped up a vodka cocktail topped with ginger beer and the rest is history. The first customer was actor Broderick Crawford. From there, the Mule “caught on like wildfire.”
The copper mug that the Moscow Mule is traditionally served in was invented concurrently with the cocktail. According to the most popular version of the story, Martin’s girlfriend at the time, Osalene Schmitt, had inherited a copper goods company and in yet another move to clear excess stock, the iconic Moscow Mule copper mug was born.
However, a second version of the tale persists, which attributes Russian immigrant Sophie Berezinski as the source of the copper mug. The story goes that Berezinski arrived on American shores with a surfeit of copper mugs made by her father’s copper company in Russia. She went door-to-door trying to sell them until her trek took her through the doors of the Cock ‘n’ Bull.
Sympathetic to her predicament, Martin and Morgan brought Berezinski to the table. The three put their heads together and after working out the kinks, the Moscow Mule, copper mug and all, was unveiled.
Still another origin story exists, claiming the Mule was created on the East Coast, in New York City. The one thing we do know is that it was Martin who helped create the buzz around the Moscow Mule. His legacy goes beyond the drink he made famous – he’s widely credited as being the driving force behind making vodka the number one spirit in the country. Today, Smirnoff remains the number one selling vodka brand worldwide.
They may have “just wanted to clean out the basement,” but in doing so, created a cocktail that thirsty bar patrons have loved for decades.
Hankering a Moscow Mule? Here’s the how-to: