Craft cocktails have long been a part of countless restaurants and bars, as well as most home bars. There are numerous varieties available, each with their own unique flavor profile and recipe. Many cocktails are widely known and served nearly everywhere, such as an old fashioned, daiquiris, and gin & tonic’s.
While these cocktails have been around for decades, other cocktails such as the Moscow Mule are currently experiencing a surge in popularity, and for plenty of different reasons. Moscow Mules offer a simple and appealing flavor profile, are easy to make, and come served in stylish copper mugs.
If you’ve noticed fellow patrons drinking these cocktails out of those alluring copper mugs, you aren’t alone. Moscow Mules are now served in thousands of locations, and are here to stay.
The standard recipe of a Moscow Mule is quite simple, as it combines vodka, ginger “beer,” lime juice, and a lime wedge. This creates a refreshing and tangy cocktail that still has a bit of a bite and kick to it, and is also complementary to numerous dishes.
While the Moscow Mule has quickly become a bar staple, the truth is that it isn’t a new cocktail by any means. In fact, the Moscow Mule has been around for quite awhile.
The Moscow Mule has a rather unique history as to how it came about in the first place. Some could even describe it as a convenient accident.
This cocktail can trace its origins back to the state of California. Hollywood, to be more specific.
During the 1940's, a man named John Martin purchased Smirnoff, one of the world’s most well-known purveyors of vodka and rum, from a man named Rudolph Kunett. One day Martin was visiting his friend Jack Morgan, who owned a bar owner in Hollywood, CA called the Cock ‘N Bull.
While at the bar, Martin complained to Morgan that he couldn't sell his vodka, as it was yet to really catch on in the country. Morgan in turn complained that he couldn't sell his proprietary ginger beer, something that he had spent a significant amount of time creating himself.
Suddenly a fit of “inventive genius” caused the two men to see what their products would be like if combined together. After a few attempts with different ratios, lime juice was added, along with a slice as garnish.
The Moscow Mule was now born, and simultaneously served as a way to offload what was at the time some rather unsellable goods. Martin saw this as a way to make his vodka popular, and a staple of every bar in the United States. At the time, gin was considered the clear liquor of choice.
The story doesn’t end right there. If you’ve partaken in or seen a Moscow Mule, you’ve noticed that it comes in a copper mug. Why is this?
Shortly after Morgan and Martin created the cocktail, a female acquaintance of Morgan complained of the fact that she couldn’t sell her copper mugs, which was puzzling to her since the mugs were actually quite popular for beverage use in countries such as India and Ireland.
Martin and Morgan saw this as yet another opportunity, making their new cocktail a sort of novelty. The parties then decided to combine their products into one entity, and the complete version of the Moscow Mule was born soon after.
The two men then decided to have the mugs specially engraved, and set off on a nation-wide publicity tour to promote this new cocktail.
Martin purchased one of the first Polaroid instant cameras, and brought it along as well. When the two would convince a bar to carry the cocktail, they would take two pictures with the bar’s owner, leave one for the bar, and then head to the nearest bar afterwards.
At the next bar, the two would show a picture of the previous bar, and explain how the other bar was carrying a new, hip cocktail that they didn’t have. The newer bar would then decide to carry it as well, and off the two went.
This marketing strategy proved to be highly efficient, and eventually bars all over the country began to catch on. Between 1947 and 1951, Smirnoff sold triple the amount of vodka as before, paving the way for it to become a staple in every bar across America.
The Moscow Mule hit a slight roadblock in the early 1950’s however, as both the name of the cocktail and the name of Smirnoff vodka led many to speculate as to the origin of the cocktail. At the time, the Cold War was in full swing, so Americans were pretty much against anything Russian.
Unionized bartenders on New York state went to far as to announce a Moscow Mule boycott, stating that they didn’t want to “shove slave labor liquor across the wood in any American saloon.”
Smirnoff was quick to dismiss the association, and went out of there way to reassure everyone that both the vodka and cocktail were both very much American in origin.
Walter Winchell, a famous radio host and journalist, gave his support in 1951, writing “The Moscow Mule is U.S. made, so don’t be political when you’re thirsty. Three are enough, however, to make you wanna fight Pro-Communists.”
The support worked, and the Moscow Mule remained an incredibly popular cocktail for the rest of the decade. The 1960’s ushered in a whole new era in several ways however, leading to the decline in the cocktail’s popularity.
To combat the declining prominence of the Moscow Mule, Smirnoff tried rebranding the cocktail as the “Smirnoff Mule,” but it didn’t work. By the mid ‘60s, the Moscow Mule was pretty much forgotten, although vodka remained popular in other uses.
Later, in the late 2000’s, the Moscow Mule made a strong comeback. Thanks to the explosion of the craft cocktail scene, the Moscow Mule is back, and here to stay. Many restaurants and bars have since followed suit, keeping stocked up on plenty of ginger beer and those stylish copper mugs.
The resurgence of the Moscow Mule has led many bars and bartenders to come up with several different takes on the original recipe, while keeping the essence of the cocktail by using any combination of the original ingredients, and certainly the copper mug.
Although the copper mug for the Moscow Mule was initially used a a matter of both convenience and novelty, the truth is that copper mugs are the perfect setting for the cocktail.
Using certain cups and glasses is not a new science. Red wine is served in wider glasses, fruity cocktails are often in hurricane glasses, mojitos in tall and narrows glasses. The shapes and sizes of these cups and glasses work to enhance the drinking experience. With Moscow Mules, the copper mug takes it to a different level.
So why use a copper mug? Why not use a standard mug, or glass?
Copper conducts both hot and cold with relative ease. Copper can instantly change temperatures depending on what it’s touching, making it well-suited for use with cold beverages and cocktails.
The thing is, most metallic surfaces already have a cold feel even at room temperature, so copper mugs enhance that sensation. While these mugs may not necessarily insulate your cocktail, they still work to keep it cold by enveloping it with cold.
Moscow Mules can be extremely refreshing, even more so on a hot day, making them perfect summer cocktails. The copper mug’s cold chill combined with the tart and refreshing taste of the Moscow Mule makes them a perfect pair.
Copper mugs instantly become cold when the cocktail is poured inside, and remains cold as long as the cocktail remains. The mug then provides a cold touch to your lips when you take a drink, along with a subtle taste from the copper itself.
While it’s true that you can drink a Moscow Mule out of practically anything, you are doing the cocktail a huge disservice, while impairing your own drinking experience. Besides, the mugs look pretty stylish and unique as well, which only adds to the mystique.
It’s all rather simple: if you’re going to drink a Moscow Mule, it needs to be in a copper mug.
Now that you know the history and proper way to serve this cocktail, it’s time to learn how to make it. Here’s what you’ll need.
As you probably know by now, vodka is the base liquor used in the Moscow Mule. As with most cocktails, the better the liquor, the better the drink. Any kind of vodka can be used, but stick with something a little higher up, or go with Smirnoff if you’re feeling traditional.
Despite it’s name, ginger beer isn’t really a beer, sort of like root beer isn’t a beer. Although there are a few actual alcoholic ginger beers in existence, you’ll want to stick with the non-alcoholic soda version for your Moscow Mule.
Ginger beer is similar to ginger ale, but with a much more concentrated ginger flavor. Ginger beer is generally sweeter as well.
You’ll need just a little, but don’t skip it. Think of the lime juice as what fuses the vodka and ginger beer together. Bottled lime juice is acceptable, but nothing beats freshly-squeezed lime juice. Avoid key limes if you can, and opt for a full sized fruit.
Always a requirement for most proper cocktails. Be sure to use ice made from filtered water to avoid any unpleasant flavors that tap water may provide.
Mint wasn’t initially included as a part of the Moscow Mule, but has become a popular garnish during the cocktail’s resurgence. Lime wedges are the traditional garnish, but aren’t required.
The instructions for making a Moscow Mule are easy enough: In a shaker, combine two ounces of your vodka, four ounces of the ginger beer, and one ounce of lime juice. Shake for five seconds, and pour into a copper mug filled with ice. Garnish with a lime wedge, and mint if desired.
While the original Moscow Mule is definitely fine the way it is, there are plenty of variations you can throw in to create new spins on the cocktail for any time of years -- and all still in a copper mug.
This refreshing spin on the traditional Moscow Mule has many more ingredients, and also requires some muddling.
Take your cucumber slices, half of the blueberries, and mint leaves, and muddle them in the bottom of your shaker. Add some ice, and then your vodka and lime. Shake for about 10-15 seconds.
Fill your copper mug with ice. Strain the cocktail from the shaker into the mug. Top off with ginger beer, and add remaining blueberries to the top of the cocktail, as well as on a toothpick with a piece of candied ginger.
Garnish with your fruit-laden toothpick and a sprig of mint.
Moscow Mules don’t have to be a summer cocktail. This recipe is a festive take on a Moscow Mule that throws in some familiar holiday flavors to mix things up, making it perfect for holiday gatherings.
Combine your simple syrup, cranberry juice, and vodka into a shaker. Shake the mixture for 10 seconds, and then pour into a copper mug filled with ice. Top of with ginger beer, and garnish with peeled orange slices and whole cranberries if you have some on hand.