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What's the Story Behind the Moscow Mule and that Copper Mug?

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Moscow Mule Copper Mug

The Moscow Mule is a drink that we all know and love; not just because it has an awesome name, but because it tastes great too! But where did it come from? And what's up with those copper mugs? Depending on who you speak to there are actually several different variations of the story of the Moscow Mule's "creation," but we'll get to that part a little bit later. The drink was prepared for the first time in 1941 (wayyy before my time!). To put that into perspective during that year Roosevelt was President, the Japanese famously attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States officially entered World War II. Around that time a Russian guy named Rudolph Kunett, who had emigrated to the US a few years earlier in 1920, owned the North American production rights to a brand of vodka called Smirnoff. While you'd probably call a person crazy nowadays if they hadn't heard of Smirnoff (it's now sold in over 130 different countries and is one of the world's leading brands of vodka), back then it wasn't doing quite so well, especially not in North America, and our friend Rudolph was really struggling to makes ends meet and could no longer afford to stump up the cash needed to pay for the required sales licenses. That's when he...


Sold the Rights to Smirnoff to John G. Martin

Smirnoff Vodka Ad with Copper Mugs

If you don't have a clue who John G. Martin is, he was the president of a company called Heublein Inc., which produced a range of alcoholic beverages throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, right up until it was dissolved in 1998. This move caused outrage amongst the board of directors as virtually no-one drank vodka in the US around that time; whiskey was the drink of choice. It was no surprise that after Heublein Inc. acquired the rights to Smirnoff it didn't exactly take-off, but that wasn't going to stop them. They used a number of smart marketing campaigns to piggyback onto whiskey's popularity at the time, re-branding Smirnoff vodka as "white whiskey" and using whiskey corks in the bottles. The result: Sales started to rise.

And What About the Moscow Mule?

Don't worry, I've not forgotten about the point of this story, I just got a little side-tracked! Anyway, a few years after John G. Martin bought the rights to Smirnoff (that happened in 1938), he linked up with Jack Morgan, who was the president of a company called Cock 'n' Bull Products. C & B Produced ginger beer, which wasn't selling very well at that time either, and it's claimed that one night the pair had met up and were sharing a few tales over some beverages (obviously alcoholic given the activities of their respective companies!), when Martin came up with the idea of mixing their products together and adding a squeeze of lemon for good measure. As soon as the idea was born, his vision just had to be realized and there was a mad rush for the ingredients. Minutes later they had everything needed laid out in front of them, so they went about putting together this new cocktail as quickly as they could. Moments later they were guzzling down the concoction for the first time. They liked it! They then made one, two, three more before naming it the Moscow Mule. And as they say, the rest is history!

Remember how I said there are variations of this story floating around? Well in 2007 there was an article published in the Wall Street Journal that stated that the head bartender at the Cock 'n' Bull tavern, Wes Price, said that it was in fact his idea to make the cocktail.

But Why Do You Drink it from a Copper Mug?

Another good question! You might not be aware, but copper has been used to create drinking "vessels" for thousands of years. Anyway, that is maybe a little irrelevant since it wasn't at all common to see solid copper mugs at the time, especially not with cocktails. So why were they used? Various sources seem to suggest that there was in fact a third person at the table that night; someone who was in the business of selling, you guessed it, copper mugs! This turned out to be a very clever marketing ploy as it really grabbed peoples' attention in the taverns, since it was something you just didn't usually see. It got people talking. They were curious as to what this new drink was. And once they had tried it, they kept coming back for more and sales skyrocketed. Nowadays, having a Moscow Mule without the copper mug is like eating Asian food without chopsticks; it's not an authentic experience!



 

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