Familiar to most by now, the Moscow Mule’s ingredients are vodka, ginger beer and a splash of lime. The drink is simple, unfussy and easy to make, which has undoubtedly helped to cement its popularity since it debuted in the early 1940s.
What’s interesting about the creation of the Moscow Mule is how it acted as a master class in marketing and promotion, and tapped into an early sense of pre-internet social media, long before the dawn of Instagram, TikTok and influencer culture.
The History of the Moscow Mule
The story is said to go like this: In the 1930s in Hartford, Connecticut, a man named John Gilbert Martin obtained the rights to Smirnoff, a fledgling producer that created a spirit, relatively unknown in the U.S. at the time, called vodka. Popular tastes skewed towards gin and whiskey, and no one wanted to buy his product, even after marketing attempts went so far as to advertise it as “Smirnoff White Whiskey: No Smell, No Taste.”
Across the country, Jack Morgan, owner of the Cock ’n Bull bar in Los Angeles, had begun to produce a line of ginger beer. He also had trouble selling it, and soon cases piled up in the bar’s cellar.
Why Moscow Mules Are Served in Copper Mugs
Finally, continents away, a Russian woman named Sophie Berezinski, daughter of the proprietor of a copper factory called Moscow Copper Co., designed a mug for her father’s company that—you guessed it—the pair couldn’t find buyers for. Berezinski is said to have departed for the U.S. with 2,000 of her copper mugs, in hopes of finding a buyer.
Eventually, the trio found each other at the Cock ’n Bull in 1941, where head bartender Wes Price combined Martin’s vodka with Morgan’s ginger beer, which had been cluttering up the basement. He added lime, and the Moscow Mule was born. Berezinski’s unconventional vessel created an eye-catching packaging for the drink, flair in mug form.
The Pre-Instagram Influencer
All that remained was promotion. The Polaroid instant camera—a revolutionary invention that debuted in the late 1940s—proved key. Martin acquired one and began to bring it to bars and restaurants, where he would ask bartenders and patrons to pose holding his Moscow Mule cocktails. The photos prominently featured copper mugs and bottles of Smirnoff vodka.
Martin was said to always print two copies of each photo, one for himself, and one to give the subject as a keepsake. He’d managed to tap into humans’ innate desire to show off pictures of themselves to friends, as a means of organic brand promotion more than half a century before the modern internet would turn it into standard operating business.
The gambit was a success. Trendy lounges throughout Los Angeles soon had bartenders posting Polaroids of themselves behind their bars, while patrons shared their own photos with each other. It all contributed to the perception of a cocktail scene awash with copper mugs and bottles of vodka.
The rest is history. And though the Moscow Mule has seen ups and downs in popularity, as any cocktail its age would, the drink still persists—as does the promotional scheme that propelled it into the mainstream.
How to Make a Moscow Mule
In copper mug filled with ice, add vodka and ginger beer. Squeeze in one lime wedge and drop hull into the drink. Garnish rim with remaining lime wedge.
What’s in a Moscow Mule?
Naturally, vodka takes center stage in this classic drink. Ginger beer adds a slightly spicy kick, while a splash of lime juice offers balance. If you’re feeling handy, you can make your own at home.
What Are Other Types of Moscow Mules?
Naturally, when something is as iconic as the Moscow Mule, there are going to be riffs. Many of them involve swapping out vodka for a different spirit.
To give this classic an Irish twist, nix vodka for whiskey in an Irish Mule Cocktail. Looking for a refreshing treat? Mix up some Moscow Mule popsicles. There are also Mezcal Mules, whiskey spiked Miso Radish Mules, bourbon-infused Autumn Mules and more.
What Is the Best Vodka for a Moscow Mule?
Whatever your vodka of choice happens to be is the best for your Moscow Mule.
That said, Hope Town Vodka and True Legacy Premium Vodka are both neutral spirits with a light, clean palate, so they won’t distract from the cocktail’s signature gingery-ness. The best part? They clock in at under $30.
This article was updated on November 17, 2022.
Last Updated: June 1, 2023