Does the Mug Make the Moscow Mule?

Does the Mug Make the Moscow Mule?
Ada Street's Moscow Mule

In bars throughout Chicagoland this summer, there is a new(ish) must-have drink: the Moscow mule. Served in a shiny, elegantly cool copper mug, Moscow mules are easy to spot. And they are everywhere.

So why are Moscow mules so popular right now? Is it the conspicuous copper mug? Or is it something else?

First, a bit of history. Legend has it the Moscow mule came about in the early 1940s when two distributors – one selling Smirnoff vodka and the other selling ginger beer – found themselves in the same predicament: no one would buy their product. The two sat down at the famed Hollywood Cock n’ Bull, owned by the ginger beer distributor, to drown their sorrows, and in the process ended up creating a classic. They took one part vodka, two parts ginger beer, mixed the two together, threw in some ice, squeezed in a lime, and whalla!, the first Moscow mule was born.

To market the new drink, the two turned to a friend with a copper factory who just so happened to have too many copper mugs lying around (apparently excess product was a not uncommon problem), and they engraved the mugs with the names of famous celebrities who frequented Cock n’ Bull. Turns out we’re not much different now than we were back then, because when the celebrities, attracted to the mules by the personalization (who doesn’t love their own custom mug?), began drinking the quaffs, the masses soon followed.

Fast forward three quarters of a century, and the Moscow mule is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. According to David Willhite, Mixologist at the Bristol, the Moscow mule has been making a comeback since 2006. “People are getting into the classic cocktails. Vodka is popular, and this mix makes it even more enticing to larger audiences,” he said.

And in the past 10 months the revival has been particularly strong, Hubbard Inn’s Director of Operations, Jason Felsenthal, told me. “Ginger beer is popular right now and is one of the main ingredients,” he said. “Also, the vodka companies have created these mugs, and the new vessels have been embraced.”

So, what’s old is new again, even the concept of using copper mugs to market the Moscow mule. But, lest you think we're all just putty in the hands of great marketers, the experts I spoke to were adamant that while the copper mug is a huge part of the Moscow mule – it keeps the drink fantastically cold – it is not, ultimately, that the mug makes the mule.

Instead, the appeal of the Moscow mule is simply that the drink is refreshing and super easy to make. The mug may make it popular, but, fundamentally, it’s just good drinking.

And was there any secret to a great Moscow mule? At the Bristol, Willhite adds fresh ginger puree. At Hubbard Inn, the crux ingredient is the ice, which is crushed. And at Ada Street, bartender Joseph Sultani uses 42 Below vodka with Gosling ginger beer.

I might add one more – drinking a Moscow mule, outside, on a hot summer night.


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