A Moscow Mule


A type of Highball, the Moscow Mule is a refreshing, light cocktail that was popular in the 1950s and originates in the early 40s in Los Angeles.

The Moscow Mule is rather simple to produce: vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer.  The flavors blend rather well, with the subtle taste of alcohol lingering on the finish, and the sweetness of the ginger beer blending well with the lime juice.  This cocktail is a specific style, known as a highball, which is comprised of equal or higher amounts of non-alcoholic mixer in comparison to the spirit itself.  The Highball, as well as the Sour, has been “one of the cardinal points of American drinking, and [… is] one of the few drinks that could come near to slugging it out with the vast and aggressive tribe of Cocktails in terms of day-in, day-out popularity (Wondrich 100-101).    Traditionally a highball is made over ice, in a “highball” glass.  Examples of this include a Bloody Mary, a Tequila Sunrise, a Harvey Wallbanger or a Screwdriver.  Yet, the Mule features a special type of “glass” in which it is served, something linked intrinsically to the history of the cocktail.

According to Dale DeGroff, many of the popular twentieth-century cocktails are a result of the modernist phenomenon known as advertising (57).  The Moscow Mule, as well as the Bloody Mary and screwdriver were the result of “Smirnoff’s marketing campaign” (Ibid).  Another thing that contributed to the creation of new cocktails was that after the repeal of the Prohibition, some states took direct control over the sale and distribution of alcohol (Ibid).  Cocktail culture somewhat stagnated, due to variegated complex patterns in laws, and so, after the depression and the second World War, cocktail culture started to escape the period of stagnation, only to find itself moving towards vodka instead of gin and whiskey (Ibid 58).  The cocktail was a promotional drink “popularized by John Martin and Rudolf Kunett of Smirnoff when they were introducing vodka to the post World War II United States.”  The cocktail was birthed as a set of interaction between the two from Smirnoff, by Jack Morrigan of Cock and Bull on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood,and by a third friend of theirs who had copper mugs in large quantity (Hess).  The Mule would be sold at the Cock and Bull to celebrities, and each celebrity would be given a customized mug that would sit around until the celebrity returns again for another round of Moscow Mules (DeGroff 156).  In order to spread the popularity of the cocktail, John Martin would go around, serve the cocktail to a bar-manager, and snap a Polaroid of the manager drinking the cocktail, only to proceed to the next bar and show “evidence” that various competitors were soliciting the product (Hess).

A major component of the cocktail, ginger beer is similar to root beer, and is a carbonated beverage principally flavored with ginger, as well as lemon or lime juice, and sweetened with cane sugar.  While not as popular as it once was, it has gone through a history of its’ own.  Around the 40s and 50s, ginger beer was usually produced by Schweppes, the rather popular producer of bottled soda water (DeGroff 156).  However, during the late 60s, the ginger beer became something unappealing, due to changes in consumer habits (Ibid).  It vanished completely by 1985, becoming a sort of rarity, only to be reborn in the 1990s as a beverage more original to its’ historical roots, that being the style of Jamaican ginger beer, which is where it originated (Ibid).  In this cocktail, depending on the type of ginger beer used, the cocktail will either be extremely spicy or more subtle and sweet.  I recommend Jamaican style ginger beer, but also Bundaberg from Australia for a more subtle approach.

 Vodka, since this is the first time we have discussed it, is similar to gin in all respects except for one: it lacks the infused components that gin has.  While vodka quite often is infused with various things, mainly because people don’t like the pure taste of alcohol, infused vodka is really similar to gin.  The processes to produce the spirit, is really rather similar to that of gin.  The word vodka means little water, being the diminutive for water, and was not the original terminology used for the drink.  However, vodka is similar to other spirits, in that it is referred to as another aqua vitae, or water of life.  The original distilled liquor that came to closely represent vodka appeared in Russia during the 14th century, when Genoese ambassadors brought aqua vitae to Moscow; such aqua vitae was a medicinal tincture of Muslim alchemists, which would become the basis of all modern distilled alcohols (Wikipedia “Vodka”).  A monk, Isidore, created the first Russian vodka around 1430, which was originally dubbed “bread wine” (Ibid).  However, it remained low in alcohol content until the middle of the 18th century, when it started being produced in stronger alcohol quantity (Ibid).  The popularity of vodka increased when the state started promoting the consumption of it, and in 1863 state taxes on it were repealed, making it appeal to all lower income citizens (Ibid).

The Moscow Mule:

2 ounces Vodka
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
Ginger beer

Fill a copper mug (or highball glass) with ice.  Pour the ingredients in the order listed over the ice, and garnish with a piece of lime and optionally a sprig of mint.


Craddock, Henry.  1999.  The Savoy Cocktail Book.  Originally published 1930.  London: Pavilion Books.

DeGroff, Dale. 2008. The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers.

Hess, Robert.  The Cocktail Spirit by Robert Hess.  “Moscow Mule.” Small Screen Network.  http://www.smallscreennetwork.com/video/68 (accessed February 22, 2010).

Interview on Chow.  2007.  “Gin is Vodka, only better: talking with a master gin distiller.”  Chow.com.  http://www.chow.com/stories/10487 (accessed February 22, 2010).

Wikipedia contributors. “Ginger Beer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginger_beer (accessed February 22, 2010).
–. “Highball.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highball (accessed February 22, 2010).
–. “Moscow Mule.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Mule (accessed February 22, 2010).
–. “Vodka.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vodka#History (accessed February 22, 2010). 

Wondrich, David. 2007. Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. New York: Penguin Group.