The true story of the Moscow Mule, the drinking world’s first viral sensation

World Best Bar

Jul 06, 2020


The true story of the Moscow Mule, the drinking world’s first viral sensation
One would be tempted to believe that this iconic vodka-based cocktail came to us from Russia. With a name like that, it seems like the most obvious explanation, right? Well think again. This is the story of how the Moscow Mule was born out of necessity on Los Angeles’s Sunset Boulevard, and how it soon became one of the most popular cocktails in America thanks to one man and his trusted Polaroid camera.

In 1939, an alcohol company president named John G. Martin had obtained the rights to Smirnoff vodka. There was only one small problem: for some reason, Americans wouldn’t drink it, sticking to their ingrained preference for gin and whiskey instead. By 1941, he was all but ready to give up on his endeavor. But then everything changed when, on one of his frequent trips to L.A., he dropped by the Cock ’n’ Bull, a famous bar owned by his good friend Jack Morgan

Turns out, Jack had a problem of his own: his cellar was packed with his own brand of unsold ginger beer, which he simply couldn’t get his customers to drink – people preferred ginger ale at the time. Cue proverbial lightbulb moment: after a bit of experimentation, Cock ’n’ Bull bartender Wes Price came up with a refreshing cocktail combining these two ingredients, plus lime juice, over ice. It was magic: the potent ginger flavor did wonders to temper the strength of the vodka, and the fresh lime juice just tied it all perfectly together. The Moscow Mule was born – the name supposedly a nod to the spirit’s place of origin and the drink’s undeniable “kick”.

The story continues that, at precisely that moment, a Russian woman named Sophie Berezinski walked into the bar (the coincidences, they just won’t stop). She had just recently inherited a copper factory from her father, and when she immigrated came to America that year, she brought with her a large, poorly selling inventory of… you guessed it, copper mugs. She was determined to make them a success, and what better vessel to drink a Russian cocktail than a Russian signature mug? As luck would have it, since copper is a great thermal conductor, it actually made the drink feel cooler and kept it chilled for longer: another instant selling point.

But that’s not the end of it. Remember, John Martin was a salesman, and the man had some vodka to sell. He knew he was onto something, but how to make it catch? It turns out that, ever the trendsetter, he was among the first to purchase a brand new invention on the block: a Polaroid camera. As he travelled around America to popularize the Moscow Mule and sell his product, he began snapping pictures of bartenders and patrons, asking them to pose with the iconic copper mug and a bottle of Smirnoff. He always took two pictures, leaving one with the bartender for display and taking the other for himself. And at every next bar he visited, John Martin’s growing collection of Polaroids served as undeniable proof of the drink’s popularity.

Soon enough, the Moscow Mule took over the United States, paving the way for dozens of other beloved vodka classics. Today, almost 80 years later, the iconic drink is experiencing a revival as one of the most in-demand cocktails in America and the world. 

And that, my friends, is how legends are made.

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