The Moscow Mule is vodka and ginger beer. 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. 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.
Then in 1939 John G. Martin convinced the company he was working for to buy Smirnoff from Mr. Kunett. He had the idea that there was a growing market for the clear, clean attributes of vodka. He began marketing the newly acquired product with the slogan “Smirnoff White Whiskey. No taste. No smell”. With the growing popularity of this drink among “daytime drinkers” concerned with bringing whiskey breath back to the office, he developed a new, more sophisticated campaign– “Smirnoff leaves you breathless”, which gave vodka a sexy new allure.
Still, as promising as this market of big city drinkers was, they weren’t thirsty enough to propel vodka sales to the heights Mr. Martin had in mind. He knew he needed a game changer…
One day he’s in Hollywood sitting at the bar of the famed watering hole, the Cock ‘n’ Bull Pub. He’s commiserating with the bar’s owner Jack Morgan, about the sluggish sales of his star product, Smirnoff. Now Morgan was just the man to understand the woes of which Martin was speaking. You see, he had been bottling and marketing a spicy ginger beer of his own. It too wasn’t quite catching on in the manner he had hoped. In a flash of alcoholic alacrity they combined Smirnoff, Cock ‘n’ Bull ginger beer, and half a lime which they mixed in a special copper mug and shrewdly branded the concoction with the catchy name, Moscow Mule. Well, when marketing geniuses get together on projects near and dear to their hearts– Shazam! Vodka’s breakout cocktail was born in a big way. Bartenders and connoisseurs hated it, but the public drank it up.
- 1⁄2 lime
- 3 oz vodka
- 5 oz ginger beer
Squeeze the lime of all its juice into a Collins glass (or copper Moscow Mule mug) then drop in the spent rind. Add ice cubes halfway up the glass and pour in the vodka over them. Fill with cold ginger beer. Stir.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD