March 3rd is celebrated as National Moscow Mule Day, where people can enjoy the classic cocktail made with vodka. This day is dedicated to appreciating and savoring this refreshing drink. It is observed annually in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, providing an opportunity to indulge in this popular vodka-based cocktail.

The Moscow Mule Chronicles: Beyond the Copper Cups

In the dimly lit corner of a 1940s Los Angeles bar, three unlikely companions—vodka, ginger beer, and a squeeze of lime came together. Little did they know this clandestine meeting would birth the legendary Moscow Mule. As we embark on a journey through the history and lesser-explored facets of this classic cocktail, prepare to be immersed in a world where cold copper cups held more than just a refreshing libation.

Moscow Mule in copper mugA Tale of Chance and Copper Mugs

The Moscow Mule’s inception is an obscure tale that unfolds during the prohibition era. Legend has it that a trio of entrepreneurs—John Martin, Jack Morgan, and Rudolph Kunett—found themselves with a surplus of vodka, ginger beer, and copper mugs. 

John Martin was the CEO of Heublein Inc, which owned Smirnoff vodka. Heublein acquired the U.S. license from Rudolph Kunett a Russian immigrant. Vodka at the time accounted for less than 1% of spirits consumed in the United States. Almost all of the vodka drinkers were from eastern Europe.

Jack Morgan owned the Cock ‘n Bull and had ginger beer made for him in Los Angeles. He had a hard time selling it because Americans preferred the sweeter ginger ale.

The Copper Mug and the Great Debate

The copper mugs, now synonymous with the cocktail, were not just a quirky choice; they played a role in keeping the drink refreshingly cold. But where did they come from? There is a debate as to which woman was responsible for supplying the copper mugs for the drink.

Osaline Schmidt a German immigrant owed a copper factory and had not found any market for its products. John Martin credited Oselin for bringing the mugs. However, there are no records of a Oseline Schmidt for that era.

That other woman, Sophie Berezinski, a Russian immigrant was in the U.S. to sell 2,000 coper mugs. She spent months trying to sell to bars on both the east and west coasts.

Sophie happened into the Cock ‘N Bull when John Martin, Jack Morgan and bartender Wes Price were creating the vodka and ginger beer drink. She saw the opportunity and suggested that the copper mugs may make the drink stand out.

It seems unlikely that Sophie would have been permitted to take 2,000 copper mugs out of Stalinist Russia, but the story is firmly rooted in her family folklore. So much so that her grandson revived the Moscow Copper Company and opened it in New Jersey. It was later sold and is still operating today.

Copper mugs with moscow mules with decanters on a trayMore Than Just Aesthetic Appeal

While the copper mug is an iconic visual cue for the Moscow Mule, its significance goes beyond aesthetics. Beyond the allure of a frosty exterior, copper has a unique ability to enhance the drink’s chill factor. The metal quickly takes on the temperature of the liquid, delivering an icy sensation that complements the cocktail’s zesty kick. So, the next time you lift that copper vessel to your lips, know that it is not just for show—it is an essential part of the Moscow Mule experience.

Testing the new drink on regulars

Bartender Wes Price decided to test the drink with a couple of bar regulars before offering it to other customers. He said, “I fixed this drink and served it first to [tough-guy actor] Broderick Crawford and [adventure-film star] Rod Cameron. It caught on like wildfire.”

How did they come up with the name?

So, what sparked the birth of the Moscow Mule name? John Martin found himself at a loss for a definitive answer, stating, “Just how the name originated, I don’t know, but I imagine that it had to do with the kick.” When the time came to market the concoction, an advertising agency working with Smirnoff dubbed it, “the Drink with the Velvet Kick.”

The term “mule,” also known as a buck in cocktail lingo, denotes a blend of liquor with ginger beer or ginger ale, coupled with citrus juice. A less imaginative duo than Martin and Morgan might have settled for the straightforward “Vodka Buck.” However, in those times, the public harbored a reluctance toward vodka. Hence, their inventive spirit gave rise to the now-iconic Moscow Mule, forever linking the spirit’s identity with a touch of Russian mystique and a captivating kick.

Moscow Mule in copper mug with a bowl of foodMoscow Mule and Food

Beyond being a standalone delight, the Moscow Mule is a versatile companion at the dining table. Its effervescent ginger notes and citrusy undertones make it a splendid match for various cuisines. Whether you are indulging in spicy Thai dishes or savoring the rich flavors of Mexican cuisine, the Moscow Mule proves to be a culinary chameleon, harmonizing with a diverse array of flavors.

Experimental Moscow Mule Twists

The classic Moscow Mule trio—vodka, ginger beer, and lime—has become a canvas for mixologists to unleash their creativity. Variations abound, introducing new spirits, flavored ginger beers, and exotic garnishes. From the fiery Mexican Mule with tequila and jalapeno pepper slices, to the berry (or mint)-infused Kentucky Mule with bourbon, the Moscow Mule’s adaptability is a testament to its enduring charm.

The Moscow Mule Today

The Moscow Mule has made a comeback in the 2010’s as part of wave of interest in classic cocktails in no small part because it was among 38 drink recipes in the “Mad Men” cocktail recipe guide.

As we sip on the legacy of the Moscow Mule, one cannot help but marvel at the journey from a chance encounter in a Manhattan hotel to a globally celebrated cocktail. Its simplicity, adaptability, and refreshing allure continue to captivate generations. So, the next time you clink those copper mugs, ponder the history, relish the flavors, and consider—what unique twist will your Moscow Mule tale take?