It’s hard to imagine vodka not being that popular as a cocktail ingredient. But such a time did exist, back before the 1940s. Sure, vodka was big back in Europe, but gin was the far and away the go-to spirit for making drinks here in the United States. So how did vodka suddenly take off? It all began with a drink dubbed the Moscow Mule.
First, the Moscow Mule recipe, then I’ll share the story of how this classic cocktail was invented.
- 2 oz vodka
- Juice of one lime (1 oz)
- 3–6 oz ginger beer
- ½ oz simple syrup
- Dash bitters
- Garnish of lime slice and mint sprig
In a copper mule mug, (or more likely) a regular glass, pour vodka, fresh lime juice, bitters, and simple syrup. Add ice and stir. Drop in lime halves that you just squeezed. You do use fresh limes whenever you can, right? Top with ginger beer, not ginger ale; mule cocktails are defined by the ginger kick. Stir ingredients together until combined. Garnish with a lime slice and a mint sprig (if you have fresh mint available). Drink up and enjoy!
The Moscow Mule takes about two minutes or so to put together. The Moscow Mule is one of those classic drinks being brought back by our thirst for nostalgia. This ginger and lime sensation isn’t necessarily a strong drink, but more on the refreshing side. The story of how this cocktail spearheaded vodka sales in the US is an interesting one.
History of the Moscow Mule
Turn back the clock to 1941, where gin is the predominant liquor and vodka is a bit of an afterthought. John G. Martin was the president of Heublein, a massive East Coast distributor of food and spirits who had recently acquired the rights to distribute Smirnoff vodka in the United States. Jack Morgan was the owner of the Cock ’n’ Bull Tavern on the Sunset Strip and distributor of the ginger beer of the same name. These two, along with Smirnoff president Rudolph Kunett, met at New York’s Chatham Hotel to brainstorm an idea to move their respective products. A basket of limes was collected to mix with the ginger beer and vodka, and soon the Moscow Mule was born.
The next task was promoting the new cocktail. Martin and Morgan decided to order up some copper mugs with a Moscow Mule emblem engraved on them. They would go to one bar, take a picture with the bar owner holding the Mule and a bottle of Smirnoff and take one more picture to show off at the next bar down the road. (Polaroid cameras were a brand new technology at this time). The idea was to convince each bar that their competitors were selling a hot new cocktail that they were missing out on. The campaign worked, as Smirnoff sales went through the roof in the 1940s. The Red Scare of the early 1950s forced Smirnoff to defend themselves, reminding consumers that Smirnoff was produced solely in the USA and not in Communist Russia. Perhaps this was part of the reason that the drink was later renamed the Smirnoff Mule. This tactic ended up being a marketing fail, as the drink fell off in sales up until recently. Thanks to a resurgence of all things vintage and nostalgic, the Moscow Mule is making a little bit of a comeback.