America’s first vodka cocktail, the Moscow Mule, celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. As the legend goes, the Mule was created in 1941 at the Hollywood pub The Cock’n Bull. It was the brainchild of John G. Martin, president of spirits company, Heublein, which owned the rights to Smirnoff vodka, and Jack Morgan, owner of The Cock’n Bull.
Martin was having trouble selling the vodka to Americans, who were more interested in brown spirits at the time, while Morgan had a ginger beer that customers weren’t interested in. They created a solution to sell both products by combining Smirnoff No. 21 vodka with Cock’n Bull ginger beer and a spritz of lime. (Someone reportedly had an oversupply of copper mugs, which is how the drink came to be served in one, but the story gets bit fuzzier.)
Martin travelled to bars around the country encouraging bartenders to make a Moscow Mule. He also gave them a Polaroid photograph—a novelty at the time—of themselves with the final creation. Martin would take a copy of the instant photograph to other bars and get them to make the cocktail as well.
The Mule soon became a nationwide trend and paved the way for other classic vodka cocktails. With the interest in historic and vintage cocktails, as well as the growing popularity of ginger beer in the U.S., the Moscow Mule has enjoyed a major resurgence in recent years.
To celebrate the drink’s milestone anniversary, Smirnoff hosted a series of immersive dinners at the 14th Annual Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans this past July. Attendees were transported back in time to experience the story of the Moscow Mule in a pop-up Cock’n Bull restaurant.
The Moscow Mule was also the official cocktail of Tales 2016 and the subject of its annual cocktail competition, a spirited dinner and a brand seminar. Angel Teta of Ataula restaurant and bar in Portland, OR, created the winning recipe, the El Burro Catalan, made with vodka, sherry, fresh-pressed cranberry, natural cane syrup, lemon juice, Angostura bitters and ginger beer.
Melissa Dowling is editor of Cheers Magazine, a sister publication of Beverage Dynamics.