A Cultural History of the Classic Moscow Mule

Classic Moscow Mule

How Vodka met Ginger Beer and introduced Americans to the famous Russian Spirit

Let us introduce you to one of the original cocktail mixes (and one of our favourite classic cocktails for the summer months). It was always our dream for our Terrigal venue to blend upscale offerings with a laid-back coastal atmosphere. We are extremely proud of our fusion bar and food menus. We take the same approach to our menus as we do with our interiors: classic, with a twist. While we proudly offer our own cocktails, we also do a mean version of the classics.

Mixology is a fascinating area and the origins of many of our favourite cocktails reveal a window into our shared cultural history. The classic Moscow Mule is no exception. A simple combination of Vodka, ginger beer, lime, and traditionally served in a copper mug, the light and zesty drink is a summer favourite for a reason.

Its origin story goes like this:

John G. Martin, an executive at the Heublein drinks company, bought Smirnoff (yes, that Smirnoff) – then a Moscow-based vodka distillery – in 1939. Everybody thought he was crazy. Whiskey-drinking Americans were unaccustomed to Vodka, and sales were extremely slow.

From here, the mythology of the Moscow Mule gets a little hazy. Martin – an original advertising whizz – claims that he and Jack Morgan, the owner of the Cock n Bull bar in Los Angeles met one night to lament the misfortune of their recent purchases of unmoveable stock. You see, Morgan was also swimming in a lot of ginger beer that no-one wanted to buy. They came up with the idea to combine the two in an attempt to get rid of the stock. Using a polaroid camera, Martin would flog the drink from bar to bar and photograph cool young things drinking it out of stylish copper mugs (more on those mugs later). The image of the stylish new drink caught on like wildfire and spread East, becoming a favourite with the nightlife crowd. This account is disputed, however, by a 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal. This account has a bartender at the Cock n Bull creating the drink. (And, to be honest, we’re more inclined to believe that a savvy bartender was responsible for its creation!) In any case, the previously unpopular Vodka paired with zesty ginger beer created a drink that popularised Vodka and Smirnoff throughout the USA and made Martin’s investment for Heublin quite worthwhile indeed.

So, what about the drink’s signature copper mug? The story goes that a recent Russian émigré, Sophie Berezinski, arrived at the United States carrying 2,000 solid copper mugs from her father’s factory. While the mugs were beautiful, Sophie and her father had been unable to offload them in Russia. The decision was made that Sophie would take the uniquely stamped mugs to the USA and try to sell them there. It was still a tough sell in the land of opportunity, and after some time, Sophie was faced with an ultimatum by her husband: find a buyer or the mugs are destined for the scrap heap. Unable to throw out her father’s mugs, Sophie ended up walking along the Sunset Strip, trying to sell them to any bar or restaurant that would take them. In walks Sophie to the Cock n Bull where she found Morgan and Martin, trying desperately to find a sales hook to get rid of their own dead stock. The fates, it seems, intervened, and the combination of Vodka, ginger beer, and a copper mug gave us one of the all-time classic cocktails!

These days, the Moscow Mule is dressed up with lime, and sometimes a little cucumber, but still served in a stamped copper mug. Come in to try our version of the classic cocktail, and imagine yourself hustlin’ on the Sunset Strip. It pairs great with our fusion restaurant menu, and a cool summer’s breeze on a balmy Terrigal afternoon.