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The Drink That Comes in a Copper Mug: Moscow Mule

Posted by Ben Arneberg on

If you’re ever been in a bar and seen someone order a drink served in a copper mug, you might understandably have been curious as to what that was. It’s certainly a unique looking drink and one that can turn heads… but do the taste and health benefits live up to the promise?

There are actually a few copper mug drinks but the one that is the most classic and well known by far is the Moscow Mule. This is a drink with a rich history, a delicious flavor and actually a ton of health benefits. So read on and let’s explore exactly what it is and why you should give it a chance.

What is the Moscow Mule?

Let’s start by looking at just what the Moscow Mule is exactly – other than a drink served in a copper mug!

Basically, the Moscow Mule is a highly delicious cocktail and one that has recently seen a massive surge in popularity thanks to its unique look and great taste.

To make the Moscow Mule, you simply need to mix vodka, ginger beer and lime juice. This is a pretty simple recipe but there are a few things that set it apart. Aside from anything else, this ‘simple’ recipe is actually highly refreshing and has a real kick to it – perhaps appropriate for a drink that has ‘mule’ in the name.

  • Vodka
  • Ginger Beer
  • Lime Juice

There are also countless versions of the classic Moscow Mule recipe that can give it various different twists – which is another thing that people tend to like about it.

But it’s also the rich history and the fact that this is a drink served in a copper mug that make it stand out. Traditionally, a Moscow Mule should be served with Smirnoff vodka – and the history of that particular drink is closely intertwined with the history of the mule itself. In fact, you could make the argument that Smirnoff owes its continued existence to the Moscow Mule!

Original vodka for moscow mule

We’ll get into that history in a moment but for now suffice to say that the Moscow Mule is a drink that’s definitely worth trying. When you order it in a bar, you will instantly show people that you know your stuff. Order it for friends and they’ll no doubt enjoy getting to try something new and be impressed with the unique presentation. You’ll also find that it’s a brilliant way to freshen up about halfway through the evening – and it’s especially welcome on a hot evening!

The History of Moscow Mule

There’s a lot that you may not know about the Moscow Mule, even if you’re someone who has a bit of experience with the drink. Did you know, for instance, that it is also known as the Vodka Buck? Or that it first became popular during the 1950s?

Specifically, the drink originally began life in the early 40s, when John G. Martin was discussing ideas with his colleagues at the Cock ‘n’ Bull restaurant in Hollywood. Martin had actually made the decision to purchase Smirnoff, which would potentially turn out to be a mistake as vodka was not particularly popular at the time. Thus, Martin needed to do something to try and raise the popularity of the drink and thereby help it to sell.

History of moscow mule

The group decided that what they needed was a cocktail that would help them to sell the drink while also promoting the restaurant. Jack Morgan, owner of the Cock ‘n’ Bull, told the story of the drink’s invention to the New York Herald Tribune:

“We three were quaffing a slug, nibbling an hors d'oeuvre and shoving toward inventive genius". Martin and Kunett had their minds on their vodka and wondered what would happen if a two-ounce shot joined with Morgan's ginger beer and the squeeze of a lemon.

Ice was ordered, lemons procured, mugs ushered in and the concoction put together. Cups were raised, the men counted five and down went the first taste. It was good. It lifted the spirit to adventure. Four or five days later the mixture was christened the Moscow Mule...”

But while this marked the invention of the drink, it was a while before it would enjoy mass popularity. The same article went on to explain:

“The mule was born in Manhattan but "stalled" on the West Coast for the duration. The birthplace of "Little Moscow" was in New York's Chatham Hotel. That was back in 1941 when the first carload of Jack Morgan's Cock 'n' Bull ginger beer was railing over the plains to give New Yorkers a happy surprise…”

moscow mule copper mugs

But it was the copper mug and Martin’s clever promotions that would eventually make it so popular…

Why is a Moscow Mule Served in a Copper Mug?

The Moscow Mule’s famous copper mug was actually the result of a happy coincidence. It was actually an immigrant called Sophie Berezinski who brought the copper mugs to California around the time that Moscow Mule became popular.

She had no affiliation with Martin or with the Cock ‘n’ Bull but was instead trying to sell mugs that she had designed for her Father’s copper cup. She was going from venue to venue trying to sell the mugs and when she met Martin, he felt that opportunity had knocked

Today there are several copper mug drinks but at the time, it was an entirely new concept. It gave the Moscow Mule its own unique look and helped to keep the drink icy cold. Thus, Martin went around visiting different bars, taking with him a bottle of Smirnoff and a photo album.

He would then ask the bartenders to pose with him, holding one of his speciality copper mugs and a bottle of Smirnoff and would give them one copy of the photo for their bar and add one copy to his album. The album was able to demonstrate the popularity of the drink to other bartenders, while the photo helped to generate interest among visitors.

And slowly, the drink began to gain popularity…

One more thing also helped the drink take off, which was a song written by Carmen McRae. Keep in mind that when Martin bought Smirnoff, the company was tiny and owned by a penniless Russian ex-pat.

The song went:

“Stand stubborn/Stop sudden/Look cool. Turn it on/Take it off/The Smirnoff Mule.”

It isn’t Shakespeare, that’s for sure…

How Moscow Mule Beat the Odds

While the Moscow Mule is a highly popular drink today, it actually had the odds stacked against it early on. For starters, the mule combines two highly unpopular ingredients. The Moscow Mule recipe includes vodka – which no one wanted – and ginger beer that also didn’t sell very well at the time. This was what sparked the drink’s creation in the first place: it was a smart way to get rid of left over inventory!

If you have two drinks lying around your home that no one seems to be drinking, try mixing them together. Perhaps you’ll stumble upon your own amazing cocktail…!

As though that wasn’t enough though, the drink was almost a victim of the cold war. Of course anti-Russian sentiment ran pretty high during that era and seeing as vodka is a Russian drink, this really didn’t help the beverage to gain popularity!

Moscow mule the victim of cold war

It didn’t matter that Smirnoff was owned by the all-American John Martin – people assumed it was Russian and so it stopped selling. What’s more, is that Smirnoff was never Russian to begin with, the drink was actually produced in Bethel, Connecticut!

Fortunately, Martin’s smart marketing was enough to combat even this prejudice.

And today the drink has even appeared in a number of different films and TV shows. It’s been in Straight Up or On the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail, Better Call Saul and even Ash vs. the Evil Dead. In that film, Ash says ‘Send me down a Moscow Mule and two of whatever the lady is having!’.

Enjoying Your Moscow Mule

The Moscow Mule has something of a cult following at the moment and by ordering one, you’ll demonstrate that you are a person of fine taste and great cocktail knowledge! (Nobody needs to know the truth…)

Or why not enjoy the Moscow Mule at home? Serve up something a little different the next time you have guests and perhaps even tell them the story of the Moscow Mule. Really, this is a drink that has a rich history and that represents an inventive and pioneering spirit! There’s so much to enjoy here, so get your own copper mug and enjoy an ice cool sip next time the sun is out and you want to enjoy a drink with a bit of a twist and a bit of a kick…

And now you know all there is to know about the drink that come in a copper mug: the Moscow Mule!

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