The Moscow Mule. It’s hard to talk about this classic cocktail without starting with a primer on vodka. Because the Moscow Mule was basically brought to American imbibers as a marketing ploy designed to get vodka averse Americans to open their minds and gullets to the Russian spirit of choice.
It’s hard to imagine today, but vodka was once so despised among the American drinking populace that in 1933 it was described in print as “Russian for ‘horrendous’”. In fact when Fernand Petiot, inventor of the Bloody Mary, moved to New York from Paris after the repeal of prohibition he was forced by his vodka repelled customers to make his spicy tomato creation with gin.
The astounding turnaround in fortunes for American vodka began in 1934 when Rudolf Kunett bought the U.S. rights to the French brand Smirnoff. Now, I said Americans were not vodka enthusiasts but it’s not like we had never heard of the stuff. There were plenty of Russian refugees from the revolution living in this country. Kunett realized that these vodka loving émigrés were an emerging market for his newly acquired product. And since so many of these refugees were settling in and around Manhattan he convinced G. Selmer Fougner of the New York Sun, to begin presenting a selection of vodka drinks in his column on wine and spirits. Which included the earliest version of a vodka martini researchers have been able to uncover.
However, despite its niche among Manhattan sophisticates and Russian émigrés, vodka remained unloved and ignored with the wider public.