It’s hard to imagine vodka ever being out of vogue.
But this, in part, was the inspiration behind the simple sipper of vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. And interestingly enough, it wasn’t created anywhere remotely close to the capital city of Russia. Chalk it up to a sprinkle of ingenuity, innovation, and fate’s intervention; the Moscow Mule aka Vodka Buck is definitely astars- aligning story.
In 1939, a fellow named John Martin bought the United States rights to Smirnoff vodka. Unfortunately, Americans wanted nothing to do with it. They were content with vermouth and whiskey. One day, as Martin was complaining about his unsellable booze at the Cock ‘n’ Bull on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, bar owner Jack Morgan lamented a similar plight: he had a bunch of ginger beer that wasn’t moving either. Probably with a few drinks under their belts, the drink that put vodka on the map in the U.S. – nearly two decades before Bond quaffed his first onscreen vodka Martini – was born in the early 40s.
However, according to a 2007 article in TheWall Street Journal, the credit should go to Wes Price, Cock ‘n’ Bull’s head bartender at the time. “I just wanted to clean out the basement,” Price was known to say of how the Moscow Mule came to be.
And why was it served in a copper mug? According to Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh, in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, Morgan had a girlfriend who owned a company that made copper products, so he had ample access to the copper Moscow Mule mugs. Martin engraved the mug with a cartoon mule and went around the country taking Polaroid photos (the camera was also invented in the same era) of bartenders holding the mug and a bottle of Smirnoff. He would then show these pictures to the next bar to sell the concept of the drink’s popularity.
And it worked. Moscow Mule madness spread, especially among celebrities and tastemakers. Clementine Paddleford, a New York Herald Tribunefood critic, shed light on the serious cocktail crush when he wrote in 1948: “The nicest thing about the mule is that it doesn’t make you noisy and argumentative, or quiet and sullen, but congenial and in love with the world. One wag of its tail and life grows rosy.”
And yet, no one knows for sure how the name came to be. ‘Moscow’ was probably chosen because vodka, back then, was associated as an exclusively Russian product. And ‘mule’? Possibly due to the ‘kick’ of flavor from the ginger beer.
Sadly, its popularity took a nosedive during the Red Scare era as it was touted as a pro-Communist drink and not American (somewhat on the same wavelength as changing French fries to freedom fries). It has survived, however, and remains one of America’s most popular summer concoctions – especially in light of its recent resurgence on cocktail bar menus, with an abundance of creative riffs, around the country.
As evidence of its kick to the top again, Tales of the Cocktail 2016, America’s largest cocktail festival held annually in New Orleans, hosted a Moscow Mule-themed contest in search of the official cocktail of the six-day event. The only requirements included a cocktail made with a base spirit, ginger, and some type of effervescence.
Recipe Courtesy of Wendy Hodges, Chilled 100 Director
- 1 1/2 oz. Smirnoff Vodka
- 4 oz. Ginger Beer
- Juice Half a Lime
Preparation: Build in copper mug with crushed ice. Garnish with lime wheel and mint sprig.