Chow Bella

Moscow Mule -- Simple Summer Cocktail, Rich History

Like the Pimm's Cup featured on Chow Bella a few weeks ago, the Moscow Mule is another thirst-quenching summery cocktail, often served in bars in a cold copper mug.

Where the Pimm's Cup is a Brit invention, the Moscow Mule is purely American.

Created in Los Angeles in the '40s (stories vary on the exact date) at an English-style pub called The Cock 'n' Bull, It was a big hit with Hollywood hipsters of the day, who frequented the famous tavern on the Sunset Strip.

Although the drink gets a bit of tweaking now and then, the bartenders at J&G Steakhouse think there's absolutely no good reason to mess with a classic. And they don't. You can find this retro cocktail everywhere or stay at home and whip up one yourself.

It's a breeze to make, and in an era of Byzantine cocktails, this old-school standby seems particularly refreshing. Here's the recipe:

Moscow Mule 1 ¼ oz vodka 3 oz ginger beer 1 tsp simple syrup ¼ oz fresh lime juice Garnish with one sprig mint, one lime slice

Like all vintage cocktails, this one is making a comeback. Can you guess why the Moscow Mule plummeted in popularity in the '50s?

How the Moscow Mule was born (more or less): John Martin -- the president of G.F. Heublein Brothers, an East Coast spirits distributor that had recently purchased the Smirnoff vodka line from a broke Russian expat -- was dining at the The Cock 'n' Bull with his friend Jack Morgan, who owned the tavern. Morgan produced a house brand of ginger beer he hoped to sell across the country. Martin needed to find a way to make vodka (an unfamiliar spirit at the time) as popular as gin.

In one version of the story, Rudolph Kunett was the broke Russian expat mentioned above and in another, he was president of the Smirnoff vodka division of Heublein -- as well as the third person at the table at The Cock 'n' Bull. But never mind all that. The story's good either way.

The two (or three) of them decided to mix the unsalable vodka and the unsalable ginger beer together with lime juice in a glass and -- voila! -- the Moscow Mule was born.

The men ordered specially engraved copper mugs for their new cocktail and set off to market it around the country. Martin, who had recently bought one of the first Polaroid cameras, invited bartenders to pose with a Moscow Mule copper mug and a bottle of Smirnoff, leaving one copy for the barkeep and showing the second copy to the bar around the corner, to encourage them to do what their competitors were doing.

The campaign worked, and both vodka and the Moscow Mule soared in popularity.

But Smirnoff and its signature cocktail took serious heat in 1950, when Senator McCarthy created a wave of anti-communist sentiment across the country. Unionized New York bartenders went so far as to boycott the Moscow Mule.

Gossip columnist and radio man Walter Winchell (whose career was tarnished by his support of McCarthyism) defended the drink, saying, "The Moscow Mule is U.S.-made, so don't be political when you're thirsty."

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Nikki Buchanan