The drink that put vodka on the US map
Vodka may now be the most popular spirit in the United States. But back when this drink was invented (in the 1940s), few Americans had ever encountered it.
Then the Moscow Mule took the country by storm. And Americans started a love affair with vodka that still goes strong today.
One taste of this tall, slow sipper and you’ll see why. Because what could be better than vodka and lime juice topped off with spicy ginger beer?
Drink up, comrades!
Recipe: The Moscow Mule Cocktail
This drink is traditionally served in a copper mug. The mugs look nice, and you can find them in many housewares stores (or via mail order). But any tall glass will work. You can even use a double rocks glass. Just go with a glass that holds a volume of 10 ounces or so.
BTW, if you’re in a hurry, you can pour this drink by eye (without measuring). Just put ice in your glass of choice, add as much vodka and lime juice as you fancy, then pour in enough ginger beer to top it up.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves 1.
- 1½ to 2 ounces vodka
- ½ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice (about ½ medium lime)
- ~4 ounces ginger beer (to taste; you might want a bit less or more)
- lime wheel or wedge for garnish (optional; may also use a sprig of mint)
- Fill a copper mule mug (or a tall glass) with ice cubes. Add the vodka and lime juice, then top up with ginger beer. Give the drink a quick stir to combine the ingredients.
- Add the garnish (if using) and a pair of straws, if you like (we do). Serve and enjoy.
- In cocktail parlance, a “mule” is a drink that combines a spirit with citrus juice and ginger beer or ale. An earlier (largely forgotten) name for this category of drink is a “buck.”
- Because of The Moscow Mule’s popularity, vodka has become the best-known spirit for this type of cocktail. But you can make a mule with any base liquor – bourbon, brandy, rum, whatever.
- The Dark and Stormy Cocktail, which uses dark rum as its base spirit, is a type of mule (at least if you include lime juice – which you should, in our opinion).
- Ginger beer is a spicier, more vivacious cousin of ginger ale. It’s usually nonalcoholic, though you can find versions with booze. Most liquor stores carry several different brands of ginger beer, and they all have different taste profiles. Experiment until you find one you like.
- The Moscow Mule originally was made with the Smirnoff brand of vodka. But any good vodka will work in this drink.
- So, how did the Moscow Mule come to be? One legend goes like this: In the late 1930s, the Heublein drinks company purchased the rights to Smirnoff. John G. Martin, an executive at Heublein, was tasked with making Smirnoff popular – a tough sell because most Americans at the time associated vodka with eastern European immigrants. Drinkers in the US were into whiskey. And gin.
- Then one day in 1941, Martin visited the Cock ‘n’ Bull Pub in Los Angeles, where he dined with the owner, a friend of his named Jack Morgan. Martin started complaining about how hard it was to sell vodka. Morgan, in turn, began lamenting an epic lapse of judgment on his own part – he had provisioned his bar with way too much ginger beer, and couldn’t move the stuff.
- So the two men put their heads together – over a drink, of course – and brainstormed the idea of combining Smirnoff vodka with ginger beer. And lime. They called it the Moscow Mule because vodka was thought to be quintessentially Russian.
- How did the copper mug enter the scene? Well, supposedly Morgan’s girlfriend had a copper factory. And she was long on copper mugs that she couldn’t unload. So the three cocktail conspirators decided to use copper mugs as the drink’s signature vessel. Win, win, win.
- The mug turned out to be a brilliant stroke of marketing. When people saw someone drinking from a copper mug in a bar or restaurant, they wanted to know what was being consumed. Then they had to order one too – and maybe liked it so much they ordered another. And stole the mug to take home.
- Swell story. Is it true? Probably not. Eric Felten, in a 2007 Wall Street Journal article, says the drink was actually invented by Wes Price, Morgan’s head bartender. Though Price apparently was motivated to move some excess ginger beer and vodka out of the storeroom (the Cock ‘n’ Bull was overstocked with both).
- According to Price, he served the first Moscow Mule he mixed to the actor Broderick Crawford, who liked it. Crawford then told his friends among the Hollywood glitterati. They liked it too, and the Moscow Mule became a Tinseltown favorite. Soon, the whole country liked it. A legend was born.
- Oh, and that vodka stuff that nobody ever drank? Well, it went on to star in countless new drinks.
“Whoa, this drink has a nice kick,” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs. “Fitting, given the name.”
“Versatile, too,” I said. “It could keep us warm during those long Russian winters, but it’s also perfect for summer sipping.”
“So you’re saying it works like a mule?” said Mrs K R.
“Yup,” I said. “I could pull a plow after a couple of these.”
“Or maybe just get plowed,” said Mrs K R.
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