A Cultural History of the Moscow Mule


One of our favorite cocktails, the Moscow Mule, turns 75 this year. Yup: Smirnoff invented this classic waaaay back in 1941 at legendary Hollywood haunt the Cock’n Bull. Who knew 75 could look so fresh? We’ve done a little digging around the cultural history of the drink to celebrate the anniversary; so mix yourself up an Original Moscow Mule, and read on.

Ready for an origin story? First, let’s get something straight: the invention of Smirnoff’s Moscow Mule has nothing to do with Moscow; it was created in the middle of Hollywood! And, the story goes that the only reason “mule” is involved at all is because of the drink’s gingery “kick.”

Cocktail lore places the Moscow Mule as the offspring of two struggling beverage biz men. John G. Martin, from the then small-scale Smirnoff, and Jack Morgan, who ran the Cock’n Bull pub in Los Angeles and was marketing his own line of ginger beer, were both having trouble finding a thirsty audience for their drinks. Vodka wasn’t nearly as popular back in 1941 as it is now (their loss!). Whiskey dominated the market. And patrons at the Cock’n Bull just weren’t down with ginger beer (again, their loss), preferring the sweeter ginger ale.

The two entrepreneurs decided to combine their efforts and their wares, to come up with a tasty cocktail that would appeal to tipplers of all stripes. A few squeezes of lime later, the Moscow Mule was born. The drink was a pretty instant success. And there may even be a scientific reason for this. According to mixologists, when the lime and ginger beer hit that copper mug, a chemical reaction takes place, making the acidity of the lime and carbonation of the ginger beer even more pronounced. Gotta love science.

And since then? Well, Smirnoff’s Moscow Mule was the vehicle most often used to introduce vodka to unfamiliar patrons coast to coast, and as such, led the way for other vodka-based cocktails, like the Screwdriver and Bloody Mary. It was also Reno casino baron William F. Harrah’s favorite drink, and he helped to spread its popularity by serving it at all his casinos.

While the Cold War dealt a hard blow to the Moscow Mule, a look at recent pop culture shows that the Mule isn’t slowing down any time soon. From Mad Men to Better Call Saul, Orange is the New Black to Ash vs Evil Dead: the Moscow Mule is all over television and cinema. Tales of the Cocktail went so far as to proclaim 2016 “The Year of the Mule.”

Which is all to say, this is a delicious bandwagon to hop on (responsibly, of course). Class dismissed.