Words by: Simon Difford
“The vodka drink with a kick” is simply vodka and ginger beer with a squeeze of lime served over ice, traditionally served in a copper mug. The Moscow Mule was created in 1941 - 1946 (the date and place of creation are disputed).
The classic recipe for a Moscow Mule is a simple one but there are many riffs:
Moscow Mule (Difford's recipe) - vodka, ginger, liqueur, lime and angostura bitters topped with ginger beer
Bohemian Mule - absinthe, lime juice and ginger beer
Dead Man's Mule - absinthe, cinnamon schnapps, orgeat, lime juice and ginger beer
French Mule - cognac, lime juice, sugar syrup, Angostura bitters and ginger beer
Gin Gin Mule - ginger root, gin, lime, sugar syrup and ginger beer
Jamaican Mule - spiced rum, lime, sugar syrup and ginger beer
Mexican Mule - tequila, lime, sugar syrup and ginger beer
New Orleans Mule - bourbon, coffee liqueur, pineapple juice, lime and ginger beer
Prickly Pear Mule - pear liqueur, poire william eax-de-vie, pear juice, lemon juice, Angostura bitters and ginger beer
Raspberry Mule - raspberries, vodka, lime juice, sugar syrup and ginger beer
Southern Mule - Southern Comfort liqueur, lime and ginger beer
Tennessee Berry Mule - raspberries, Tennessee whiskey, amaretto liqueur, cranberry juice, lime and ginger beer
Tuscan Mule - Tuaca liqueur, lime and ginger beer
John G. Martin had recently (in 1939) acquired the rights to Smirnoff vodka for Heublein, a small Connecticut based liquor and food distributor. Meanwhile, Jack Morgan, a friend of his and owner of Hollywood's famous British pub, the Cock'n'Bull Saloon on Sunset Strip, was trying to launch his own brand of ginger beer but sales were not going well.
Legend has it that the two men met at New York City's Chatham Bar and hit on the idea of mixing Martin's vodka with Morgan's ginger beer and adding a squeeze of lime (perhaps inspired by the Cuba Libre) to create the Moscow Mule.
Others, most notably Eric Felton in a 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal, say the drink was invented back in Hollywood at the Cock 'n' Bull by Wes Price, its head bartender. Price is said to have created the drink in an attempt to clear an overstock of ginger beer from the pub's basement. He served the new drink to actor Broderick Crawford and so the drink caught on from there.
Wes Price, apparently resigned from the Cock 'n' Bull in 1953 and is quoted as saying "I wasn't truly appreciated. I never got an extra cent for my invention".
What is sure is that the combination of vodka and ginger beer helped both Morgan and Martin shift their products but the drinks success is greatly due to its being served in a copper mug specially engraved with a kicking mule. This intuitive was driven by a girlfriend of Morgan's who'd recently inheriting a copper factory which made the previously poorly selling copper mugs. The success of the Moscow Mule was most fortuitous for all three friends.
By 1947 when Edwin H. Land invented the Polaroid Land Camera, the Moscow Mule was already established on the drinks menus of numerous bars. Martin, bought himself one of the instant cameras and went from bar to bar photographing bartenders holding a bottle Smirnoff Vodka in one hand and a copper mule mug in the other. He gave one photograph to the bartender and used a second to show the next neighbouring bar what they were missing out on. The Moscow Mule and the use of the Polaroid Camera was a stroke of marketing genius.