It’s kind of unthinkable today, but back in the 1940s, it was hard to get Americans to drink Vodka.
Today, Vodka is the most consumed liquor in the country but back in the days during WWII, it was a novelty but not one that was really catching on.
And then came the Moscow Mule and with that little drink, everything changed.
So what’s the story?
The story of the Moscow Mule is one of marketing, consumerism, Madison Avenue, necessity and a whole heap of luck.
Basically, the Heublein drinks company has bought the right to Smirnoff Vodka in the 1930s but they were having trouble moving the spirit.
One of their executive, John G. Martin, was having a drink one afternoon with a friend John A. Morgan, who owned Cock ‘n’ Bull Products and the Hollywood Cock ‘n’ Bull Restaurant.
It seems the Cock ‘N’ Bull were making Ginger Beer and also couldn’t move it.
The story goes that the men wondered what would happen if a two-ounce shot of Martin’s Vodka joined with Morgan’s ginger beer and the squeeze of lemon.
So ice was ordered, lemons procured, mugs ushered in and the concoction put together. Cups were raised, the men counted five and down went the first taste. It was good and then several days later the mixture was christened the Moscow Mule…
Now to complete the trilogy, it seems that Morgan had a girlfriend who owned a company that made copper products, including the mug that would become synonymous with the Moscow Mule.
How the Polaroid changed everything
The true genius though, came when Martin got his hands on a Polaroid Camera.
With it firmly in hand, he would basically bar-crawled his way across the country, taking pictures of bartenders holding a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka in one hand and a copper Moscow Mule mug in the other.
He would take two shots; the first he would leave with the bartender, the second he would take onto the next joint to show them what the competition was selling. And well, the rest, as they say, was history …
Now there are other versions, such as the one where the barman of the Cock & Bull was the person to come up with the drink in an attempt to clear the bar’s cellar that was packed with unsaleable goods such as Smirnoff Vodka and ginger beer.
Either way, what was created was a drink with staying power that was such a hit that it set vodka on a path of upward mobility that even the Cold War couldn’t slow down.
Smirnoff & celebrity
And it wasn’t long before celebrities jumped on board, with the likes of Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, and Zsa Zsa Gabor endorsing Smirnoff. And then, of course, Sean Connery, as James Bond, asked for his Smirnoff vodka martini “shaken, not stirred.” The Cock & Bull, being a popular hang out for Hollywood types, used to engrave the Copper Mugs of their star patrons, so they would always be available when they came in. It didn’t take long for everyone to want a Copper Mug of their own.
Now while the Moscow Mule itself has gone unchanged, it has spurred a myriad of variations. Sure some of these have just changed the base spirit but some have taken the formula to some more extreme (and extremely delicious) places.
While great in summer, the stubborn spiciness of the Mule can really be enjoyed all year round. And it’s great to play around with variations but don’t forget what Jim Meehan says, “A highball made with lime juice and ginger ale is a buck; substitute ginger beer for ale and it’s a mule; add absinthe and you’ve got yourself a donkey.”